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Syrian activists form a 'national council'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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U.N. probes rights violations in Syria
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  • The Syrian opposition wants all sectors of society to join the council

(CNN) -- Syrian dissidents have formed a national council to lead the opposition to Bashar al-Assad's regime, opposition members meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, said Tuesday.

This appears to be one of several opposition movements and parties claiming to represent the Syrian opposition inside and outside Syria. The creation of the council came as Libya's National Transitional Council is primed to take the reins of power from the Moammar Gadhafi regime.

"I want the Syrian regime to take note of what happened in Libya," said Syrian National Council member Louay Safi.

"Those dictators who think that they are above people and above history, (think) they can maintain repression without being called to account. That time is over now. All nations have the right to live under the rule of law and to experience democracy and free speech and freedom," Safi said.

The al-Assad regime is accused of attacking demonstrators in an effort to crush a pro-democracy movement that emerged in the aftermath of similar protests throughout North Africa and the Middle East in the so-called "Arab spring" of 2011.

"Regrettably, Assad keeps making promises that he is going to stop and, you know, over the weekend we had more brutality
--Victoria Nuland, U.S. State Department spokeswoman
Pressure increases on Syria regime

In the latest unrest, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that Sheikh Omar Mostapha from Idleb province in Syria died from sniper-fire wounds sustained Monday, and that Syrian security forces raided villages, towns and farms in Idleb and Hama provinces. CNN was unable to independently verify the group's report.

On Tuesday, the United States and its European allies on the U.N. Security Council began circulating a draft resolution that calls for tough sanctions against al-Assad and other top Syrian officials.

"The resolution includes an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze on individuals and entities who are responsible for what is happening," British Deputy Ambassador Phillip Parham told reporters. "But there are things they can do now. They can stop the killing and release detainees. And allow access."

The draft resolution calls for sanctions against 23 individuals and four companies. However, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Tuesday "we don't think" the time was right for sanctions against Syria, and Brazil, China, India and South Africa also expressed reservations.

Security Council resolutions need at least nine votes to pass on the 15-member council with no vetoes.

The goal of the new national council to be formed by dissidents is to have 120 members -- 60 exiles and 60 activists from inside Syria. The dissidents intend to announce the names on the council in 15 days.

The group's organizers have denounced the al-Assad regime, and they are inviting representatives of all ethnic and sectarian communities to join them.

Asked by CNN whether the current events in Libya offer any lessons to the Syrian opposition, Safi said, "We are very happy to see the Libyan people able to achieve the freedom they want."

However, Safi said, the group doesn't want Syria to go the same way as Libya in its effort to build a democracy, a reference to the civil warfare raging in the North African country.

"We are insisting on peaceful protests, and hope the Syrian people will adopt this approach," Safi said.

The movement wants to establish a democratic system but stressed the need to be independent of foreign interference.

Also on Tuesday, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution to launch an inquiry into human rights violations in Syria, amid growing international pressure over the Syrian government's crackdown on protests.

The council also called for an end to all violence and deplored the "continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities."

The resolution passed Tuesday on a 33-to-4 vote, with nine abstentions.

"Today, the international community joined together to denounce the Syrian regime's horrific violence," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"The Commission of Inquiry will investigate all violations of international human rights law by Syrian authorities and help the international community address the serious human rights abuses in Syria and ensure that those responsible are held to account."

Clinton's statement also repeated the U.S. call for al-Assad to step down "and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves."

The Human Rights Council also took up the report of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report "outlined a litany of government abuses ranging from murder, enforced disappearances, deprivation of liberty and the torture even of children to an apparent 'shoot-to-kill' policy against protesters with snipers posted on rooftops."

The probe ordered by the council on Tuesday "will investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011, and establish the facts and circumstances that may amount to such violations and of the crimes perpetrated."

The agency will attempt to make sure that "perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable. "

A U.N. humanitarian team at present is in Syria to assess civilian humanitarian needs, such as food and medicine.

These developments come a day after the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said more than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since mid-March, with more than 350 people reportedly killed since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The European Union Tuesday adopted a decision to add 15 Syrian individuals and five entities to its asset freeze and travel ban list.

The EU started work on a proposal to bar Syrian crude oil and that will be under discussion through the week, said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Last week, the EU's political and security committee proposed an embargo and it will be examined by a committee of experts.

CNN's Ivan Watson, Per Nyberg, Tom Cohen, Matthew Vann and Joe Sterling contributed to this report

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