BEIRUT — The US was pushing to keep Syria's peace process alive on Thursday, saying President Bashar al-Assad's future will be decided in the coming weeks, after the embattled leader rejected an ambitious timetable to cede power.
Top diplomats from 17 countries last week agreed a framework to create a transitional government, new constitution and hold elections under a plan to end the more than four-year conflict that has cost 250,000 lives.
Syrians are due to start political discussions in the new year, beginning a process Washington hopes will allow foreign players to focus their fire on the Islamic State group that was behind last week's bloody Paris attacks.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Assad's role will be determined in the upcoming talks, but reiterated that the Syrian president must leave as a precondition for any credible peace process.
Hours earlier, US President Barack Obama said during a trip to Manila that he cannot "foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power". Underlining the international fallout from Syria's conflict, France, still reeling from the attacks orchestrated by Islamic State extremists on Friday that claimed 129 lives in the worst terror attack on its soil, asked the United Nations to ramp up the fight against the jihadists.
In a draft resolution presented to the 15-member UN Security Council, it called on UN member states to "redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts" committed by the Islamic State organisation and other extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda.
The draft does not provide any legal basis for military action but France hopes it will rally support for the campaign against IS jihadists as it steps up its own attacks in Syria and Iraq.
"The exceptional and unprecedented threat posed by this group to the entire international community requires a strong, united and unambiguous response from the Security Council," French Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre said.
A General Assembly committee also passed a Saudi Arabia-sponsored resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria and calling for war crimes perpetrators to face trial.
International efforts to end the Syrian crisis have gathered steam as IS militants have carried out increasingly ambitious attacks against foreign targets and thousands of people fleeing the country have started pouring into Europe.
Russia redoubled its air strikes in Syria after the IS group claimed to have brought down a Russian jet over Egypt last month, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would be ready to work with the Western coalition if they "respect Syria's sovereignty".
But Assad's future remains a key sticking point between Russia and Western powers, who rejected a separate Russia-backed UN resolution for international co-operation against IS extremists with the consent of the Syrian administration.
Meanwhile, Syria's army and rebels struggled to pursue talks to reach a 15-day ceasefire in the Eastern Ghouta rebel stronghold east of Damascus.
The two sides had been locked in talks overnight in the hopes of reaching a deal by 6am (0400 GMT), in what would be the first temporary truce in Eastern Ghouta.
After hours of relative quiet on Thursday morning, Syria's armed forces resumed shelling Douma, killing 12 people and wounding 70, the Observatory said. — AFP