The online news portal of TV5
AMMAN - The UN Security Council, including Russia and China, threw its weight on Wednesday behind efforts by Kofi Annan to end the bloody conflict in Syria, providing a rare moment of global unity in the face of the year-long crisis.
In a statement approved by all its 15 members, the council threatened Syria with unspecified "further steps" if it failed to comply with Annan's peace plan, which calls for a ceasefire and demands swift access for aid agencies.
Although the original statement was diluted at Russia's demand, editing out any specific ultimatums, the fact that all major powers signed up to the proposal represented a major blow to President Bashar al-Assad as he battles a popular uprising.
"To President Assad and his regime we say, along with the rest of the international community: take this path, commit to it, or face increasing pressure and isolation," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington.
At least 8,000 people have died in the revolt, according to UN figures. Violence has intensified in recent weeks as pro-government forces bombard rebel towns and villages, looking to sweep their lightly armed opponents out of their strongholds.
Syria lies in a pivotal position at the heart of a web of regional conflicts in the Middle East, comprising a mix of faiths, sects and ethnic groups, and diplomats fear the rebellion is degenerating into a full-blown civil war.
Assad's forces have chalked up a string of gains as they turned their firepower on areas held by rebels. But the fighting shows no sign of abating and analysts expect the insurgents to change their tactics and adopt guerrilla warfare.
Opposition activists said the army used tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft guns on the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Irbin early Wednesday, which were retaken from rebels two months ago but have seen renewed insurgency in recent days.
Elsewhere the army fired mortars into the Khalidiya district of Homs, while artillery targeted the rebel town of Rastan, north of Homs city, in central Syria. Video also showed shelling of the ancient Apamea castle at Qalat Mudiq, near Hama.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people died in the southern city of Deraa when the army opened fire after a bomb had hit a military convoy, killing two soldiers. It added that two girls died in gunfire in Qalat Mudiq.
But faced by growing global outrage at the bloodshed, the two countries agreed to a so-called "presidential statement". They are generally non-binding documents but do require unanimous support in the Security Council.
The accord came a few days after Annan, a former UN secretary general, told the Security Council that Damascus's response to his plans for peace were disappointing and he had urged the international community to lay aside its divisions.
It also calls for the government and opposition to hold talks to secure a peaceful settlement. Assad has not rejected the proposals but has challenged their feasibility and asked who can speak for the splintered opposition.
However, they have yet to agree on who should attend the gathering, underlining doubts about their ability to overcome their divisions, which have frustrated Arab and Western states seeking a reliable partner to unite the anti-Assad movement.
The Security Council last passed a presidential statement on Syria in August 2011, but council members did reach a rare agreement on March 1 to rebuke Damascus for not letting UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos into the country.
France welcomed the Security Council's move and said Assad must now halt all violence and repression, allow humanitarian aid to reach everyone in need and engage in "inclusive dialogue" with the opposition to find a lasting political solution.
"With this declaration the United Nations Security Council is beginning to take responsibility after months of blockage," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris. (Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York, Dominic Evans in Beirut, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, and Olivia Rondonuwu in Jakarta, Leigh Thomas in Paris)