THE United States on Tuesday urged Russia to back UN Security Council action on Syria, after UN officials said the death toll in the months-long Syrian protests had exceeded 5,000.
‘Frankly we think that it is past time for the UN Security Council to speak up, ’State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, denouncing Security Council silence on the Syrian regime as ‘unconscionable’.
‘And we are again calling on our partners on the Security Council to be willing to take action and speak out for the innocents in Syria who are suffering at the hands of the regime, including Russia,’ Nuland said.
Russia is chairing the 15-member UN Security Council this month.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed as ‘immoral’ Western accusations it was blocking UN action condemning the deadly crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Russia and China in October used a rare double veto to block a Western-backed resolution condemning Assad’s regime. Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained.
Moscow said then that the action was one-sided and on Tuesday argued that ‘armed extremist groups’ were becoming increasingly reckless as Western pressure on Assad grew.
When asked to comment on Lavrov’s remarks, Nuland replied: ‘We think it’s the Assad regime that is immoral in the violence it’s perpetrating on its own people.’
Nuland meanwhile admitted that there have been ‘some instances’ where the opposition has carried out armed attacks against the regime, but the opposition movement has ‘been peaceful’ in general.
But she said Russia should support Arab League calls to admit monitors and a free press if it wants to have any chance of supporting its claims of violence being perpetrated on both sides.
‘That’s the best way to assess what’s really going on and to ensure a balanced picture that the Russians themselves claim is needed,’ Nuland said.
Nuland suggested that the 1.4 billion of Russians and Chinese were increasingly isolated in their stance on Syria.
‘The chorus of countries that are appealing to Russia, to China, to some of the other countries on the Security Council that were reluctant before is growing,’ she said.
In fact, Russia says US missile defence arrangements are aimed against Russia and China
The secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolay Patrushev, has announced: ‘Moscow is in no doubt that the US missile defence system is aimed against Russia and China.
‘Our experts have submitted rather convincing calculations from which it is clear that the American arguments regarding threats to the USA and Europe from Iran and North Korea are invented.
‘Along with this, one can clearly observe that the US missile defence system is aimed against Russia and China,’ Patrushev said.
‘What is more, the plans for the further development of this system envisage the deployment of ships carrying anti-missiles in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s coast, as well as the deployment of radar stations of the missile defence system near our borders,’ Patrushev said.
‘Despite the obvious nature of these arguments, the American “partners” do not agree with them and refuse to give us legally-binding guarantees of the missiles not being aimed against Russia. We still have time for talks, but there is less and less of it left,’ Patrushev said.
Earlier the Russian leadership announced that Moscow will deploy measures in response to the deployment of elements of US missile defence. These measures envisage the deployment of a strike group if Russia’s concerns are not heard in the West.
In particular, it was suggested to deploy Iskander missile systems in the west and south of Russia.
The Russian leaders have said that the US is attempting to repeat the Libyan tactic in Syria and that it will never support such a regime-change operation in Syria.
l Far from the uproar of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Israel has been doubling its efforts to erect a giant, impenetrable security barrier along its 240-kilometre (150-mile) border with the Egyptian Sinai.
Work on the new border fence began a year ago, in a project initially aimed at stemming the growing tide of economic migrants and asylum seekers from Africa, as well as clamping down on drug trafficking.
But the pace of work has sped up since August, when fighters from Sinai sneaked across the border and staged a series of deadly ambushes in Israel’s southern Negev desert, putting security firmly at the top of the agenda.
‘In a month’s time, we will have built 100 kilometres of the barrier which by the end of 2012, will extend some 240 km along the border,’ a senior military officer in the southern command said.
When completed, the fence will stretch the entire length of Israel’s desert frontier with Egypt, starting from the Red Sea resort town of Eilat in the south and ending at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza.
‘For us, it is still a border of peace,’ he said, pointing to the carcass of a bus which was strafed with gunfire during the August 18 attacks, a series of coordinated ambushes by gunmen who attacked route 12 in the Netafim area, some 20 kilometres north of Eilat.
Eight Israelis were killed during the attacks, along with seven of the gunmen, and five Egyptian policemen who were allegedly accidentally shot dead by Israeli troops as they hunted down the remaining attackers in an incident which sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
‘The joint Israeli-Egyptian inquiry (into the incident) has not yet started but cooperation with our Egyptian counterparts continues through the intermediary in our unit for liaising with foreign armies,’ he said.
Some 200 metres (yards) away, some dozen Egyptian policemen dressed in khaki trousers and T-shirts kicked a ball around near a position which is topped by a watchtower painted in the red, white and black of the national flag.
On the Israeli side, bulldozers, cement mixers and jackhammers were hard at work, kicking up a cloud of dust.
All along route 12, the border road which cuts through a landscape of craggy peaks and ravines, the towering barrier is becoming a concrete reality.
At a rate of 800 metres per day, the giant wall is erasing all trace of the old frontier, which was marked by barbed wire strung between wooden poles which was easy to cut through or climb over because it often fell down.
The new frontier is five metres high and topped with metal spikes, with a foundation which reaches another metre down into the rocky soil. In front of it are three rolls of barbed wire piled on top of each other, and the entire structure is bristling with surveillance technology: sensors, radars, antennae and cameras.
Building the new frontier has accounted for 15 per cent of Israel’s entire annual steel consumption, with the overall cost of the project set to come in at 1.35 billion shekels (270 million euros/$360 million).
‘Unfortunately, we cannot prevent firing from the heights overlooking us, but the concrete fortifications along the road will allow drivers to take cover,’ the officer said.
He believes that route 12, which has been closed since the August attack, will soon be reopened to hikers.
Despite his assurances, the tension is palpable.
The number of troops in the area ‘has increased considerably’ and ‘battle-hardened’ units in armoured-personnel carriers are deployed there, he said.
The army has also increased its rapid response capabilities and upped the number of radar installations and observation posts in the region. Overhead, two surveillance balloons provide an aerial perspective.
• The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society said on Wednesday that the Israeli prison service has notified the detainees who will be released in the second phase of the prisoner swap deal.
The society has released a list naming 114 detainees it says will be freed.
Israel released 477 prisoners on October 18 and agreed to free an additional 550 detainees within two months in a captive exchange deal with Hamas to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Wednesday that the remaining prisoners would be freed on Sunday if the Supreme Court rejected any petitions against the release.
The list will not include any Hamas or Islamic Jihad affiliates. Most detainees set for release are affiliated to Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the official told Haaretz, adding that minors and women would be among those freed.