UN delays Syria vote as Annan hopes to broker new deal

The UN Security Council has delayed a vote on a new Syria resolution until tomorrow in a last-minute effort to get key Western nations and Russia to reach agreement on measures to end the escalating violence.

The UN Security Council has delayed a vote on a new Syria resolution until tomorrow in a last-minute effort to get key Western nations and Russia to reach agreement on measures to end the escalating violence.

International envoy Kofi Annan urged the council to delay tonight's scheduled vote after a bombing in the heart of Syria's capital killed three senior members of president Bashar Assad's regime.

Ambassadors from the five veto-wielding permanent council nations - the US, Russia, China, the UK and France - met behind closed doors to discuss Mr Annan's request.

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin later told reporters: "A possible vote has been postponed until tomorrow morning."

Meanwhile, the US is slapping financial sanctions on a huge swathe of leading members of Assad's regime, targeting the Prime Minister and 28 other cabinet ministers and senior officials.

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions, hours after three senior Syrian officials were killed in an explosion in Damascus.

The US move freezes any assets the ministers may have in US jurisdictions and bars Americans from doing business with them.

The US administration had already imposed similar penalties on security officials, and the latest step extends those sanctions to virtually the entire government.

US defence secretary Leon Panetta said: "It's extremely important that the international community, working with other countries that have concerns in that area … bring maximum pressure on Assad to do what's right to step down and to allow for that peaceful transition.

"The violence there has only gotten worse, and the loss of lives has only increased, which tells us that this is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control."

He said that is all the more reason for the international community to bring "maximum pressure" on Assad to step down and permit a stable transfer of power.

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