Syrian troops mounted deadly new raids against dissent Monday as President Bashar Assad's embattled regime won key support from longtime ally Russia, which said a U.N. resolution on Syria must not contain sanctions.
The U.N. said Monday that the death toll has reached at least 2,600 from the government's violent crackdown on protests over the past six months.
Although the crackdown has brought widespread international condemnation, Assad's authoritarian regime has the support of Russia and China, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with veto powers.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday that Moscow believes any U.N. resolution on Syria must be aimed at both the government and the opposition.
"Russia proceeds from the assumption that it's necessary to approve a resolution on Syria that will be tough, but well balanced at the same time that would address both parties to the conflict _ President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition," Medvedev said. "Only in that case could it be successful."
"The resolution must be tough, but it mustn't automatically involve sanctions," he said. "There is absolutely no need now for any additional pressure."
Both Russia and China oppose a draft U.N. Security Council resolution backed by European nations and the United States that would impose an arms embargo and other sanctions on Syria. Moscow has introduced a rival resolution calling for Assad's government to halt its violence against protesters and expedite reforms.
The raids around the central city of Hama began after security forces cut all roads leading to the area along with electricity and telephone lines.
The death toll from Monday's raids around Hama and violence elsewhere was not immediately clear.
The activist network called the Local Coordination Committees said there were civilian casualties from Monday's raids but there was no exact figure.
Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso says at least five people were killed.
Another group, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said one person also was also killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma when security forces opened at a funeral.
Syrian protesters are increasingly calling for some sort of outside help _ although not necessarily military action like the NATO intervention that helped topple the Gadhafi regime in Libya. Instead, they are calling for observation missions and human rights monitors who could help deter attacks on civilians.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Monday that the new death toll of 2,600 is based on "reliable sources on the ground."
Syria has disputed accounts of civilian deaths and says the regime is fighting terrorists and thugs _ not true reform seekers. A senior Assad adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, said Monday that the toll was really 1,400 _ evenly split between security forces and the opposition.
Shaaban also said the West should follow Russia's steps in trying to end the crisis in Syria through peaceful means. She was scheduled to meet Monday with Mikhail Margelov, the Russian presidential envoy to the Middle East.
Bassem Mroue can be reached at http://twitter.com/bmroue