* Five Turkish civilians killed by Syrian mortar
* Russia draft cuts reference to international law breaches
* Russian text keeps strong condemnation of Syria attack
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Russia on Thursday blocked the adoption of a draft statement condemning a deadly Syrian mortar attack on a Turkish town and proposed a weaker text that would call for “restraint” on the border without referring to breaches of international law.
“The members of the Security Council called on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid military clashes which could lead to a further escalation of the situation in the border area between Syria and Turkey,” said Russia’s proposed statement, which was obtained by Reuters.
If adopted, the non-binding statement would also call on the two neighbors to “reduce tensions and forge a path toward a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.” The Syrian mortar attack on Wednesday killed five Turkish civilians.
The Russian drafts keeps some of the language in the original text proposed by Azerbaijan, and urges the Syrian government to investigate the attack.
The United States also proposed amendments to “strengthen” the original text, according a Western diplomat.
The original draft, circulated to the 15-nation council on Wednesday, condemned “in the strongest terms” the Syrian army’s shelling of a town in Turkey and demanded an end to violations of Turkish territory.
“This represents a demonstration of the spilling over of the crisis in Syria into neighboring states to an alarming degree,” say both the Russian and the initial draft.
However, the Russians proposed removing the following sentence, which diplomats said was crucial language: “Such violations of international law constitute a serious threat to international peace and security.”
The language removed by the Russia, U.N. envoys say, was intended to signal that the Security Council, which is supposed to be the guardian of international peace and security, should remain involved in the matter.
Some 30,000 people have been killed across Syria, activists say, in a conflict with growing sectarian overtones which threatens to draw in regional Sunni Muslim and Shi‘ite powers.
Council diplomats said they would continue negotiating on the draft statement. U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Susan Rice told reporters before heading into a council meeting on other issues: “Let’s go work on it.”
The decision to try to issue a council statement was a response to a request from Turkey, which asked council members on Wednesday to take the “necessary action” to stop Syrian aggression and ensure that the government there respect Turkish territorial integrity.
“This is an act of aggression by Syria against Turkey,” Turkish U.N. Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan said in a letter to the president of the 15-nation Security Council, Guatemalan Ambassador Gert Rosenthal.
“It constitutes a flagrant violation of international law as well as a breach of international peace and security,” said the letter, which was obtained by Reuters.
It was unlikely that the council would do anything more than issue a statement for the time being. The Security Council has been deadlocked on Syria’s 18-month-long conflict for more than a year.
Russia, a staunch ally of Syria‘s, and China have vetoed three resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.