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Russia opens way to UN resolution on Syria
Russia appears to drop opposition to UN resolution criticizing Syria
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) ' Russia's government has indicated that it would not oppose a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria.

Sergei Vershinin, chief of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East and North Africa Department, told Russian news agencies Tuesday that Russia is "not categorically against" adopting a new U.N. resolution on Syria. But he said such a resolution should not impose sanctions because that would only escalate the conflict.

His statement appeared to soften Russia's stance regarding Syria. Last month, Russia and China had threatened to veto a U.N. resolution that would condemn the violence in Syria, which would effectively block the vote.

Syrian troops have killed nearly 100 people in two days, firing at worshippers heading to Ramadan prayers in the city on Hama, an opposition stronghold.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ROME (AP) ' Italy recalled its ambassador to Syria on Tuesday to protest the repression of anti-government demonstrations and urged other European nations to do the same.

Italy is the first European Union country to pull its ambassador, although the EU has been tightening sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans against five additional military and government officials on Monday.

Italy's Foreign Ministry said it had decided to recall its envoy "in the face of the horrible repression against the civil population" by the Syrian government, which launched a deadly new push against protesters as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.

The ambassador was coming back Tuesday night, the Foreign Ministry said.

In July, the Qatari embassy in Damascus suspended its operations and the ambassador left the country. But the impetus for that move were protests outside the embassy against Al-Jazeera's coverage of the Syrian uprising. Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar.

Syria accuses Al-Jazeera and other media of incitement and fabricating events in their coverage of the protests.

Rome's appeal to fellow EU nations was not immediately heeded. Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Spain and Sweden had no such plans for now.

France also signaled no move was imminent, suggesting Rome had not sent its proposals through official diplomatic channels, and there was no EU-wide initiative to recall envoys from Damascus, officials in Brussels said.

The British Foreign Office said it shares Italy's "strong concerns about the situation in Syria" but is not recalling its ambassador in Damascus.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said tougher EU sanctions were sending a "clear and unambiguous" message.

"In the absence of an end to the senseless violence and a genuine process of political reform, we will continue to pursue further EU sanctions," he said in a statement. Without change, he added, "President Assad and those around him will find themselves isolated internationally and discredited within Syria."

Poland, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, called instead for joint international action, with the U.N. Security Council playing a key role. The Polish foreign ministry added the EU delegation in Syria will also remain in Damascus.

The Czech Republic said ambassadors are the only foreigners in a country where virtually all foreign media are banned. "We need to maintain an independent source of information there," Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar said.

In Rome, a Foreign Ministry undersecretary, Stefania Craxi, said Italy wanted to send "a strong signal of condemnation" for the crackdown.

Craxi said Assad appeared "incapable" of handling the situation and implementing the serious reforms that both his citizens and the international community demand, the ANSA news agency reported. Craxi was briefing lawmakers on the situation in Syria.

Rome will also suspend cooperative programs with Damascus, save for aid destined to Iraqi refugees and other humanitarian assistance, Craxi said. The programs have been worth a total of euro50 million for the past three years, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Syrian troops killed nearly 100 people in two days, firing at worshippers heading to Ramadan prayers in the city on Hama, an opposition stronghold. On Tuesday, the troops tightened their siege on the city, sending residents fleeing for their lives.

The repression has caused an international outcry.

The U.N.'s top human rights official urged Syrian authorities to stop the bloodshed and allow unhampered access to provide humanitarian assistance and to send a fact-finding mission.

"The government has been trying to keep the world blind about the alarming situation in the country," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Tuesday. But "the world is watching and the international community is gravely concerned."

President Barack Obama called the latest attacks "outrageous."

More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in a crackdown on largely peaceful protests since a popular uprising began in Syria in mid-March.

The EU said Tuesday that people targeted in its expanded sanctions' list include Syria's defense minister, Ali Habib Mahmud, and the head of the army's internal security, Maj. Gen. Tawfiq Younes.

The list brings the number of targeted individuals to 35. Four government entities are also on the list.


Associated Press writers across Europe contributed to this report.

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