Cameron tells of dilemma on Syria

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David Cameron has spoken of his frustration at Britain’s inability to do more to prevent the slaughter in Syria, after Russia and China signed a statement criticising the Assad regime.

It was reported last night that a force led by President Bashir Assad’s younger brother Maher had now taken the last rebel stronghold of Homs and the rebel forces were in retreat.

Soldiers loyal to Assad were said to be going door to door rounding up anyone suspected of backing the rebellion, including children as young as 12.

The Prime Minister said work was under way to ensure president Assad and his regime could be held legally responsible for the brutal repression but warned that direct intervention was not feasible.

Having previously vetoed UN security council resolutions on Syria, the Russians and Chinese last night finally added their backing to a statement condemning the violence from the Syrian Government and calling for humanitarian bodies to be allowed access.

While it does not have the binding nature of a resolution, such a statement can only be issued with the approval of all 15 Council members.

It expressed “deep disappointment” to bar UN humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator Baroness Valerie Amos and called for her to be give immediate and unhindered access to areas hit by the crisis.

There should also be “full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance” to help evacuate the wounded, it said.

More than 7,500 people have been killed so far in the 11-month crackdown on a rebellion calling for the overthrow of the regime.

The rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation has led the UK to withdraw its diplomatic staff from Syria and close the Damascus embassy.

Announcing the decision to MPs yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague, urged those fighting for Assad to lay down their arms.

Mr Cameron said the international community was trying to exert “maximum pressure on Assad and his dreadful regime”.

“We’ve been pushing for resolutions at the United Nations we’ve been working with the Syrian opposition to try and encourage them be more inclusive,” he said.

“I think we have to keep up that pressure. But we do have to recognise... there are big differences between the situation in Libya and the situation as Syria.

“The biggest difference, of course, being we had the express permission of the Arab League and the United Nations to take all possible measures, to take the military action that we took.”

Announcing the closure of the embassy, Mr Hague said staff and premises were judged at risk but that it “in no way reduces the UK’s commitment to active diplomacy to maintain pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence”.

The UK would continue to work with the opposition Syrian National Council and support UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s work, he said.

Remaining British nationals were urged to leave and contact the embassy of any remaining EU member state for assistance.

Britain also condemned the refusal by Damascus to allow Baroness Amos into the country.

However Syrian authorities did grant the International Committee of the Red Cross permission to enter the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr.

Meanwhile it was reported yesterday that Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin was buried by Syrian rebels in the Homs suburb where she died because they did not have electricity to keep her body refrigerated.

The British Red Cross has launched a Syria Crisis Appeal to help provide food, medical supplies and transport for the wounded.