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UN condemns Syria over rally deaths

The UN Security Council has condemned Syrian authorities for attacking civilians and committing widespread human rights violations.

After more than three months of deadlock and silence on the escalating violence in Syria, the council adopted a presidential statement tonight condemning President Bashar Assad's crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The trigger for the council to start negotiations on a text was the intense military assault launched by the Syrian government over the weekend that sent troops and tanks into the besieged city of Hama.

Presidential statements require approval from all 15 council members. Lebanon, a neighbour and close ally of Syria, did not block the adoption of the statement, but it invoked a procedure last used 35 years ago and dissociated itself from the text.

Assad's regime has been using force since mid-March to put down citizen protests demanding political reforms. Activists say that some 1,700 civilians have been killed.

European and US council members had been pressing for a resolution that would strongly condemn Syria. But Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa had been arguing that condemnation would not promote negotiations, promised reforms by Assad, and an end to the violence.

Lebanon's deputy ambassador Caroline Ziade told the council after the statement was read at a formal meeting by India's UN ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the current president, that it "does not help in addressing the current situation" and therefore "Lebanon dissociates itself" from it.

The council adopted the presidential statement to avoid having to call a formal vote on a resolution. While weaker than a resolution, a presidential statement still becomes part of the Security Council's record.

The statement "condemns widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities".

It asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to update the Security Council on the situation in Syria in a week, which will keep the issue on the council's agenda.

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