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US warns Syria nearing the brink of civil war

By Reuters

Arab and Western states urged the U.N. Security Council to act swiftly on a resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside as his government's forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs on Tuesday after beating back rebels at the gates of the capital.

The comments were apparently designed to confront Russia over its reluctance to support the resolution and condemn Assad's government for its violent suppression of the protests.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called for the council to take "rapid and decisive action," on a resolution that would endorse the league's demand that Assad delegate powers to his deputy and defuse the 10-month uprising against his family's dynastic rule.

"Do not let the Syrian people down in its plight," Elaraby said.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim warned the 15-nation body that Syria's "killing machine is still at work."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly backed the Arab League's call for rapid Security Council action and warned that the violence was pushing Syria to the brink of civil war.

"The evidence is clear that Assad's forces are initiating nearly all the attacks that kill civilians, but as more citizens take up arms to resist the regime's brutality, violence is increasingly likely to spiral out of control," Clinton told the Security Council.

"We all have a choice: stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there."

At the same time, Arab and Western nations made clear they were trying to avoid a Libyan-style foreign military intervention in the Syrian crisis, which they fear could prompt Russia to veto the resolution.

"We are not calling for a military intervention," Sheikh Hamad said. "We are advocating the exertion of concrete economic pressure so that the Syrian regime might realize that it is imperative to meet the demands of its people."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the council the resolution "does not call for military action and could not be used to authorize it." French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described the idea of such intervention as a myth.

The fate of the resolution depends on whether Russia, one of Assad's few remaining allies, can be persuaded not to veto the resolution.