MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Wednesday accused the West of inciting the Syrian opposition after the defense minister and President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law were killed in a bomb attack, arguing that a proposed U.N. resolution amounted to support for the rebels and would lead to more bloodshed.
Russia, a longtime Syria ally, is at odds with the U.S. and its European allies ahead of a scheduled vote Wednesday afternoon on a new resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria's government aimed at ending the country's 17-month civil war.
"Instead of calming the opposition down, some of our partners are inciting it to go on," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday.
Supporting the Syrian opposition "is a dead-end policy, because Assad is not leaving voluntarily," he said.
The key stumbling block to an agreement on a Syria plan at the U.N. Security Council is the Western demand for a resolution threatening non-military sanctions and tied to Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, which could eventually allow the use of force to end the conflict.
Russia is adamantly opposed to any mention of sanctions or Chapter 7. Although Western nations appear to have little appetite for force, Russia fears a repeat of the NATO campaign in Libya and adamantly opposes any prospect of international intervention.
A Western-backed resolution that would impose sanctions and allows for possible military intervention "would amount to direct support of the revolutionary movement," Lavrov said.
Britain's foreign secretary insisted on Wednesday, however, that the bombing underscored the urgent need for a Chapter 7 resolution.
"The situation in Syria is clearly deteriorating. All the members of the U.N. Security Council have a responsibility to put their weight behind the enforcement of ... Annan's plan to end the violence," William Hague said in a statement.
British Defense Minister Philip Hammond suggested that Russia and China hold the key to finding a peaceful solution.
"The regime exists at the moment because it receives tacit support from other powers in the world," he said Wednesday during a Pentagon press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. "If those powers are sending clear messages about the limits of their tolerance for the activities of the regime, that will be an effective constraint on the activities of the regime."
Panetta said "it is more essential than ever" that the U.S. and the international community work through the U.N. to bring pressure on Assad to step down.
The pressure was rising on diplomats as Syria's rebel commander Riad al-Assad said his forces planted a bomb inside a room in Damascus where senior government officials were meeting Wednesday. The rebel leader denies government claims that it was a suicide attack, saying all those who carried out the operation are safe.
There has been a lot of diplomatic scrambling to try to get council unity, which would send a much stronger signal to Syria, with international envoy Kofi Annan in Russia for two days of high-level meetings, including talks with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
The Western draft resolution would impose non-military sanctions against Assad's regime if it fails to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days — a key plank of the Annan plan. Moscow's rival proposed resolution calls for the "immediate implementation" of Annan's plan and guidelines for a political transition approved at a meeting in Geneva last month but makes no mention of sanctions.
Russia and China have incurred international criticism by twice vetoing U.N. resolutions to increase pressure on Assad. In Beijing, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sat down for talks Wednesday morning with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
After the meeting, Ban said the Chinese leaders shared his view that the situation in Syria is "very serious."
"I sincerely hope the members of the Security Council will be able to discuss with a sense of urgency and take collective action, with a sense of unity," Ban said. "We cannot go on like this way. So many people have lost their lives during such a long time."
A commentary that ran Tuesday in the official People's Daily newspaper strongly opposed using force against Syria — a sign that China may again block the Western-backed resolution. It said "a political solution is the only way out of the Syrian problem."
In New York, Syria's main opposition group urged Russia on Tuesday to support the Western resolution, saying it was the last chance "to breathe life" into Annan's peace plan.
Bassma Kodmani, a Syrian National Council spokeswoman, told reporters that if the Security Council fails to act, Syria's opposition will consider other options — which she did not disclose — to protect the Syrian people.
Heintz reported from Moscow. Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan, and Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.