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China tells Arab League it backs humanitarian aid for Syria

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - China backs international efforts to send humanitarian aid to Syria, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, after Western powers proposed a United Nations resolution authorizing humanitarian aid.

It was not clear whether Yang's remarks mean China will consider the proposed new U. N. Security Council resolution. China is one of the five permanent members of the Council which have the power to veto such resolutions.

"The pressing task now is for all sides to cease violence in the Syrian conflict, and to launch as soon as possible inclusive political dialogue and together deliberate on a reform plan," Yang told Elaraby, who has previously said Beijing's veto lost it diplomatic credit in the Arab world.

"The international community should create conditions for this, and extend humanitarian aid to Syria," added Yang.

China is trying to win back diplomatic ground after its widely condemned handling of the Syrian crisis.

Western powers said the U.N. Security Council would work on a draft resolution about extending help to stricken parts of Syria, and France urged Russia and China not to veto it, as they have previous drafts.

Yang made the comments in a phone call late on Tuesday with the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, the official Xinhua news service reported on Wednesday.

Yang's published comments did not mention France's announcement about the draft resolution. Still, his remarks appeared to be a step towards appeasing anger in the Arab League and the wider international community over Beijing's veto, along with Russia, in early February of a draft U.N. resolution aimed at urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

The bloodshed in Syria, where government forces have been bombarding neighborhoods held by opposition forces, has turned into a broader test setting Western powers against China and Russia over how the world should respond to civil turmoil.

DOMESTIC SOLUTION

Russia and China have opposed international interference in Syria and argued that a domestic solution to the bloodshed there is possible.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 7,500 civilians have been killed by Assad's forces since the start of the Syrian revolt.

In considering a new resolution, China is likely to remain wary of any wording that threatens undermining the standing of the Syrian government and creating "de facto backing" for opposition forces, said Zhu Feng, a professor of international security at Peking University.

"A new Security Council draft resolution will be a chance to revive international consultation on Syria," said Zhu.

"But the question with authorizing humanitarian aid will be whether you effectively encourage two governments in Syria, as you did in Libya," Zhu said, citing the NATO campaign in Libya that sustained opposition forces and ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

China abstained from the Security Council vote last year that authorized the Libya effort, but later suggested NATO powers exceeded the U.N. mandate through their expanding bombing campaign.

"China's biggest worry is that Europe and the United States still adopt military intervention in Syria, as happened in Libya," said Zhu. "For China, that's the key. It doesn't have the same direct stake in Syria that Russia has."

The earlier Syria veto by Moscow and Beijing angered Western powers and major Arab states which have been pushing for U.N. action, under pressure from public opinion outraged at civilian casualties in Homs. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the China-Russia veto "despicable".

China's Foreign Ministry on Monday said Clinton's criticism of Beijing's stance was "totally unacceptable".

China has sent envoys to the region to seek a diplomatic solution for Syria and backed plans for a referendum and multi-party elections. The plans have been dismissed by the West and Syria's opposition as a sham.

(Editing by Richard Pullin and Daniel Magnowski)

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