07/18/2012, 00.00
SYRIA
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Fighting in the streets in Damascus, fighting over words at the UN

Contradictory reports come from the battle raging in the Syrian capital, which the rebel army says will end with the city's liberation. Today the UN Security Council holds talks to end the crisis. Russian and Chinese opposition excludes any reference to the use of force. Source in UN says there is little chance of successful last-minute negotiations.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - As fighting rages in Damascus, the United Nations Security Council in New York has been trying to find common ground on the Syrian crisis. UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who is in Moscow, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is in Beijing, are directly committed to this goal.

Contradictory reports are coming out of Syria bit by bit. The Free Syrian Army dubbed its military actions "the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria." Claiming it had shot down a helicopter in the capital, it said that its operations would end only with the capital's liberation. Casualty figures also varied but were certainly in the dozens, both dead and wounded.

The Muslim Brotherhood called on Syrians to rise up saying that the battle for Damascus must be "the gate to victory". Conversely, Syrian military sources said that troops had "the situation under control".

Syria's official news agency SANA admitted fighting in Damascus suburbs, but insisted that that the authorities had managed to deal with the terrorists and "cleared the roads," inflicting "heavy losses" on the terrorists.

State media also tried to minimise the operations. Syrian state-run television ran live interviews with Al-Midan residents who said that "nothing was happening" in the neighbourhood as gunfire was heard crackling in the background.

A major if not decisive battle is in fact underway in the capital, at least according to Major General Aviv, head of Israeli army intelligence, who said that Syrian troops had been moved from the Golan Heights toward conflict zones, including Damascus.

Tonight, the Security Council is set to meet to discuss the formal renewal of the UN mission charged with monitoring the ceasefire agreed in April in compliance with the Kofi Annan plan.

Renewing the observers' mandate should not be a problem. However, the Western demand that the demand for an end to the violence come with the threat of new sanctions against the Syrian regime based on Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter is a significant stumbling block for Moscow has always vehemently opposed the use of force. In the words of Russia's UN deputy ambassador, any mention of Chapter 7 or sanctions would be a "red line for Moscow".

More concretely, it is still not clear what Russian President Vladimir Putin meant when he told Annan he would "do everything" to support the UN-Arab League peace envoy's plan even if UN Secretary general Ban Ki-moon were to convince Beijing, Assad's other ally, of the need to end what the Red Cross has already described as a civil war.

A source at the UN said on Tuesday that there is little chance of successful last-minute negotiations. (PD)

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