U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon was headed to China on Tuesday amid alarm over the spiralling violence in Syria and a diplomatic push to get Russia and China to back a tougher response to attacks by President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Mr. Ban’s trip comes ahead of a U.N. Security Council vote Wednesday on whether to allow sanctions and authorise actions to enforce them that could ultimately include the use of military force, which U.S. administration and European officials are playing down as a possibility. Russia and China have blocked previous efforts to sanction Syria.

Mr. Ban will talk with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday, with Syria expected to top the agenda.

There has been heightened urgency to global diplomatic efforts on Syria since it was reported last week that dozens were killed in a regime assault on the Syrian village of Tremseh. U.N. observers said the attack appeared to target army defectors and activists.

Syria has denied U.N. claims that government forces used heavy weapons such as tanks, artillery and helicopters during the attack.

In response to the Tremseh attacks, Mr. Ban on Friday urged U.N. members to “take collective and decisive action” on Syria immediately and warned that inaction would be “license for further massacres.”

China has maintained that a diplomatic solution is the only way to end the crisis and resisted calls to pressure Assad to step down. The official People’s Daily newspaper ran a commentary on Tuesday strongly opposing force against Syria and calling for a political solution, a sign that China may again block the Western-backed resolution.

“Sovereign equality and noninterference in internal affairs (of other countries) is a red line that must not be crossed,” said the commentary. “A political solution is the only way out of the Syrian problem.”

Syria’s once peaceful protest movement has morphed into an armed insurgency seeking to topple the regime by force.

Anti-regime activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed. The government says it has lost more than 4,000 security officers. It does not provide numbers of civilian dead.

World powers remain deeply divided over who is responsible and how to stop it. The U.S. and many Western nations have called on Assad to leave power, while Russia, China and Iran have stood by the regime.

“I think Ban’s message on the Syria problem will be very clear and quite urgent,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at People’s University in Beijing. “He hopes this time that China will give support to calls for Assad to step down. Or at least not to oppose them.”

Shi said the violence in Tremseh has made it more difficult for China to oppose action against Assad’s government but Beijing will also want to continue to align its position with Russia’s.

“It would be hard for China to speak out if Russia sticks to its previous stance,” Shi said. “China is in a very difficult situation now.”

International envoy Kofi Annan, who has been unsuccessful in brokering a political solution in Syria, met Russian leaders on Monday. The meeting came a day after the conflict crossed a symbolic threshold, with the international Red Cross formally declaring it a civil war, a status with implications for potential war crimes prosecutions.

Syrian opposition activists said on Tuesday that Syrian government forces used helicopter gunships to battle rebels in the capital Damascus. The fighting was the most sustained and widespread in the capital since the uprising started 16 months ago.

Keywords: Syria crisis

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