Members of the deeply divided U.N. Security Council are considering whether to approve a statement calling on the Syrian government to facilitate immediate access to the estimated 2,500 civilians trapped in the central city of Homs as a result of recent heavy fighting.
Austria and Luxembourg circulated a draft press statement on Homs, which would require approval by all 15 council members. Diplomats said the deadline for objections was noon EDT (1600 GMT) Wednesday, but Russia asked for an extension until 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) on Thursday.
The draft statement expresses "grave concern" at the plight of the trapped civilians and calls for Syria to facilitate "immediate, safe and unhindered access" to Homs for U.N. and other humanitarian workers so they can assist civilians in need, especially those requiring medical treatment, the diplomats said.
It calls on all parties in Syria to do their utmost to protect civilians, including allowing them to leave Homs, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the statement has not been made public.
The draft statement also calls on the parties to avoid civilian casualties, recalling the Syrian government's primary responsibility to protect civilians, and emphasizes that those responsible for violations of international law will be held accountable, the diplomats said.
The Security Council, the U.N.'s most powerful body, has been been unable to act on Syria because of deep divisions.
The United States and its European allies have proposed three resolutions aimed at pressuring Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to stop the violence, but all three have been vetoed by Russia, Syria's most important ally, and China, which also supports the government.
The draft statement on Homs is similar to a press statement approved by the council on June 7 urging Syria to immediately allow U.N. and other humanitarian groups into the strategic town of Qusair to provide aid to civilians who desperately needed food and medical care.
Diplomats said Russia held up approval of that statement until rebel fighters were routed from Qusair by government forces.
In Homs on Wednesday, Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah fighters were encircling the neighborhoods of Khaldiyeh and Bab Houd which have been held by rebels for the past year. Homs-based activist Tariq Badrakhan told AP via Skype that Syrian forces were "cleaning" the area of rebel fighters by firing mortar shells at buildings.
Diplomats said that after the council issued its statement on Qusair, humanitarian workers were allowed into that town. They expressed hope that a statement on Homs would lead to similar access.