The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Syria, which includes criticism of the Security Council for its failure to act.
The resolution was passed on Friday with 133 votes in favour, 12 against, and 31 abstentions.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, said before the vote that the Syria conflict had become a “proxy war” and appealed to the major powers to overcome their rivalry and act to end the violence.
Ban said international players were “arming one side or the other” and that ”the immediate interests of the Syrian people must be paramount over any larger rivalries of influence.”
The draft resolution denounces Syria for unleashing tanks, artillery, helicopters and warplanes on the people of Aleppo and Damascus. The draft also demands that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad keep its chemical and biological weapons warehoused and under strict control.
It is “deploring the Security Council failure” to act, taking a sweep at Russia and China, which three times have vetoed resolutions that could have opened the door to sanctions on Syria, or even military intervention..
Opposition activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March, 2011. The government says thousands of troops and security forces have been killed by “armed terrorists”, the term it uses for the rebels which are seeking to overthrow Assad.
Ban said Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, had become ”the epicentre of a vicious battle between the Syrian government and those who wish to replace it”.
He said the reported brutality in the city may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.
“Such acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account,” he said.
Daily battles have raged in some neighbourhoods of Aleppo since July 20, when the armed opposition launched an offensive in the city.
The draft resolution was passed in the 193-member General Assembly after its Arab sponsors were forced to drop two key provisions in the original draft: a demand that Assad resign, and a call for other nations to place sanctions on Syria over its civil war.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari called the resolution’s main sponsors, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, “despotic oligarchies”.
“The draft resolution will have no impact whatsoever. It is a piece of theater,” he told reporters after the vote.
As with all General Assembly resolutions, it is non-binding and carries only symbolic power.
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the UN in New York, said the resolution was not expected to have much effect on the ground in Syria, as even Security Council resolutions, which are binding under international law, have failed to end violence.
“The hope is that it will send a message, and further isolate the Syrian regime,” she said. “And perhaps get people inside that regime to think twice about their support for President Assad, and begin to change the dynamics.”
Russia, which has consistently supported Syria at the United Nations, said it did not back the resolution because it was unbalanced and would encourage rebels to keep fighting.
The UK ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, responded by saying the resolution was never meant to be balanced “because the situation on the ground is not balanced”, with the opposition being peaceful for most of the uprising.
“It is the Syrian regime that has responded with brutality, the use of heavy weapons, shelling of civilian neighbourhoods,” he said.
“So one cannot equate … the violence perpetrated by the regime on the opposition, which yes, has now had to take up arms to defend itself and defend civilian neighbourhoods.”
The UN action came a day after Kofi Annan said he would step down as joint special envoy to Syria at the end of August.
He cited “finger-pointing and name-calling” in the 15-nation Security Council as one of the reasons for his decision to step down.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said the failure of the envoy’s six-point peace plan was partly due to disunity within the international community.
“What we call countries with influence were told to use their influence to pressure the parties to implement the plan,” he said.
“They did not do so, therefore the failure is primarily the failure of the protagonists of this conflict - the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition - and this has been compounded … by the disunity within the international community”.