By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Europe and the United States heaped criticism on Syria at the United Nations on Thursday after failing to persuade Russia to support condemning Damascus for its crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The occasion was the renewal of the mandate for a U.N. observer force in Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where Israel accuses the Syrian government of orchestrating deadly confrontations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops on May 15 and June 5.
As expected, a resolution renewing the mandate for another six months until the end of this year received unanimous support from all 15 council members.
Normally the mandate renewal for the four-decade old force, known as UNDOF, is a routine event without fanfare or controversy. This year the situation was different as U.S. and European Union diplomats tried to include language condemning Syrian "human rights abuses" in the initial U.S.-drafted text.
Russia, backed by China, threatened to veto UNDOF's mandate renewal if such language was included. In the end, the resolution expressed "grave concern at the serious events that occurred in UNDOF's area of operations on 15 May and 5 June that put the long held ceasefire in jeopardy."
Although it referred to the Golan Heights incidents, in which Israeli soldiers fired on and killed a number of Palestinian protesters, it made no mention of the Syrian crackdown against demonstrators, which human rights activists say resulted in over 1,300 civilian deaths since the uprisings began in March.
"The question of Syria and the renewal of UNDOF's mandate are two distinct issues," Xinhua news agency quoted Wang Min, deputy permanent representative of the Chinese Mission to the United Nations, as saying.
"They should not be linked together so as to avoid complicating and politicizing the renewal of UNDOF's mandate," Wang added.
Western delegates used Thursday's council meeting to rail against Syria for killing demonstrators and provoking Israel.
Several countries also indirectly chided Israel for firing on Palestinian demonstrators in the Golan Heights, saying all sides needed to exercise restraint.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Rosemary DiCarlo said that Syria had engineered the Golan Heights protests, which the Syrian government said resulted in the deaths of 23 people, as a "transparent ploy" to divert attention from its brutal crackdown on demonstrators.
Deputy British Ambassador Philip Parham said Damascus has ignored calls for it to heed calls for change and reform.
"Instead, they have met legitimate demands for reform with brute force in which an estimated 1,400 people have died in the last 3 months," he said. "This is completely unacceptable."
French Deputy Ambassador Martin Briens also condemned what he said were Syria's "hypocritical" attempts to "divert international attention away from the aspirations of its own people on whom it is inflicting a bloody crackdown."
Those views were echoed by Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari dismissed the criticism of his country, saying his government was committed to reform and was not cracking down on innocent protesters.
"Some extremists have started using violence and bearing arms against law-and-order forces and against innocent Syrian citizens, including peaceful demonstrators," he said, adding that these were "internal developments that have nothing to do with the Security Council."
Russian Deputy Ambassador Alexander Pankin made clear Moscow had not budged on the topic of Syria, long a close Russian ally, and saw no need for council action.
"Syria is not on the agenda of the Security Council because it is not a threat to international peace and security," he said.
Diplomats say the council has not voted on a European-drafted resolution condemning Syria for clampdown on protesters because Russia and China have threatened to veto it and Brazil, India and South Africa said they would abstain.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)