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US And Russia clash over Syria

The US and Russia have clashed over Syria despite pleas from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the divided Security Council to speak with one voice to help the country.

Washington and Moscow both called for an end to the bloody year-long conflict - but on different terms, leaving in doubt prospects of breaking a deadlock in the council over a new resolution.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected any equivalence between the "premeditated murders" carried by president Bashar Assad's "military machine" and the civilians under siege driven to self-defence.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Syrian authorities "bear a huge share of responsibility" but insisted opposition fighters and extremists including al Qaida are also committing violent and terrorist acts. Mr Lavrov said if the priority was to end any violence and provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people "then at this stage we should not talk about who was the first to start, but rather discuss realistic and feasible approaches which would allow (us) to achieve the cease-fire as a priority."

Mrs Clinton declared that the Security Council cannot "stand silent when governments massacre their own people, threatening regional peace and security in the process."

The ministerial debate in the council, chaired by Foreign Secretary William Hague, on challenges from last year's Arab Spring was dominated by the Syrian conflict, which has killed over 7,500 people. Mr Ban said it had led the entire region into uncertainty and subjected citizens in several cities to disproportionate violence.

Russia, which is Syria's most powerful ally, and China have vetoed two US and European-backed Security Council resolutions which would have condemned Assad's bloody crackdown, saying they were unbalanced and demanded that only the government stop attacks, not the opposition. Moscow accused Western powers of fuelling the conflict by backing the rebels. Earlier this month, the United States proposed a new draft which tried to take a more balanced approach, but diplomats said Russia and China rejected it, saying it was still unbalanced.

Mr Lavrov flew to New York from Cairo, where he had a tense meeting with Arab League foreign ministers. They have endorsed a plan for Assad to hand power to his vice president, but the Russians are adamantly opposed to any resolution endorsing regime change.

In the end, the Arab League and Mr Lavrov agreed on a five-point plan that the Russia foreign minister said could lead to an early solution of the Syrian crisis: an immediate cease-fire, a clause preventing foreign intervention, assurances about humanitarian aid, an impartial monitoring mechanism and an endorsement of the mission by former UN chief Kofi Annan, the new UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria.

Mr Annan left Syria on Sunday without a deal to end the conflict, while regime forces mounted a new assault on rebel strongholds in the north.

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