The soaring death toll in Syria is a "terrible indictment" of the failure of the United Nations Security Council to confront the fighting, the foreign secretary told the Commons on Monday.

William Hague condemned Russia and China for three times vetoing resolutions attempting to tackle the fighting.

And he said the wider international community had to step up and contribute to humanitarian efforts which are currently substantially short of the funds required.

syria crisis digest


A citizen journalism image of Syrians paying their respect to those killed in Damascus


Updating the House on the situation in Syria as MPs gathered for the first day of the new session, Mr Hague said more than 20,000 people had died in the fighting over the past 17 months, 1.5 million are internally displaced, and 230,000 have fled across borders to Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

The foreign secretary said: "On three occasions we have tried with our partners to adopt a Security Council resolution that would require the regime to begin a political transition, rather than simply call on it to do so.

"On each occasion, Russia and China have used vetoes, most recently on 19 July.

"It is a terrible indictment of the Council that approximately a quarter of all those who have been killed in Syria died in the month following the last vetoed resolution.

"We continue to urge Russia and China to work with us to end the crisis and to allow the Security Council to live up to its responsibilities."

Mr Hague told MPs the government was working in five areas in a bid to support the Syrian people in the absence of a coherent international response.

He said they were helping to create the conditions for a political transition, providing further humanitarian aid, increasing the pressure on the regime, supporting justice for victims of human rights violations and planning assistance to a future Syrian government.

Actions are being co-ordinated with allies but the funding required to deliver the humanitarian aid needed is not in place.

"As of last week, the 180 million dollar UN Humanitarian Response Plan was only half funded," Mr Hague said.

"There is an urgent need for other countries to help make up the shortfall."

In response, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander endorsed the government's strategy for dealing with the situation.

He said: "Since the last time we debated the situation, the pace of the conflict unfolding in Syria has quickened and the situation on the ground worsened.

"Do you accept the situation in Syria continues to represent not only, of course, a terrible indictment of Assad's brutality but also a tragic failure by the international community?

"The longer the conflict continues, the greater the risk of a rise in jihadism on the one hand, and of indiscriminate sectarian violence on the other, making a sustainable resolution to the conflict even harder to achieve.

"Do you accept there is today not an agreed legal basis or indeed public appetite for British ground-based forces to be deployed in Syria?

"It is imperative therefore the government focuses its efforts in the weeks ahead in unifying the international community's response, uniting a fractured opposition behind a credible plan for an inclusive political transition, and addressing the continued and on-going humanitarian need of the millions suffering in Syria today.

"If that is the focus of work in the weeks ahead, you will continue to have opposition support."

Mr Hague replied: "I agree about what you said about the deployment of British ground forces, this is not something I've heard anybody advocate in this country, but it is also true we do not know how this will develop in the coming months.

"It is likely to deteriorate sharply."

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  • Syrian Regime

    Despite major defections and a July 18. explosion in Damascus that killed four top generals, including President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law, the regime's inner circle is still powerful and united against the opposition. Assad's inner circle includes his younger brother, Maher, who commands the forces in charge of protecting the capital. It also includes the heads of the four intelligence agencies playing a major role in the crackdown. Although regime forces lost parts of the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, government troops still control most cities, while the opposition dominates large parts of the countryside. <em>Caption: This June 13, 2000, file photo shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, his brother Maher, center, and brother-in-law Major General Assef Shawkat, left. (AP Photo, File)</em>

  • Free Syrian Army

    The main rebel fighting force for more than a year, the Free Syrian Army includes lightly-armed volunteer militiamen and defectors from Assad's military. Its overall strength and structure is unclear, but tens of thousands are believed be loyal to the group. The rebels have control over some northern areas, allowing movement of fighters and supplies from Turkey and Lebanon. Anti-Assad forces have failed to maintain any strategic footholds in big cities, being driven back from key neighborhoods in Homs earlier this year and now apparently losing ground in the largest urban center, Aleppo. The battles also suggest only weak direction from central commanders - including Turkey-based Free Syrian Army leader Riad al-Asaad. <em>Caption: In this citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network SNN, taken on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, Free Syrian Army soldiers pose for a photograph, in Sarmada, Idlib province, northern Syria. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)</em>

  • Syrian National Council

    Based in Istanbul, the SNC has emerged as the main political opposition to Assad and has pushed for international recognition as the legitimate representative of the uprising, despite rifts with other Syrian factions. The group also has been hit by internal feuds that have led some senior members to quit. The current leader, Abdelbaset Sieda, is a Swedish-based activist for Syria's minority Kurdish community. The SNC has gained support from many countries in the West and Arab world, but it has not galvanized international backing, and critics complain its senior leadership is made up mostly of exiles out of touch with their homeland. <em>Caption: The members of the Syrian National Council and its head Abdulbaset Sieda, center, arrive for a meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, July 23, 2012.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)</em>

  • The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change

    A rival to the SNC, the National Coordination Committee is led by opposition figures inside Syria, many of them former political prisoners. SNC members accuse the group of being far too lenient and willing to engage in dialogue with the regime. In turn, the National Coordination Committee accuses the SNC of being a front for Western powers and willing to open the door to the Muslim Brotherhood and other conservative Islamist factions. <em>Caption: Member of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, Morhaf Mickael speaks during a meeting of Syrian opposition parties in Brussels on Sunday, June 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)</em>

  • International Alliances

    On Assad's side are traditional Shiite allies Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. <em>Caption: In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/SANA)</em>

  • International Alliances

    The regime also has important political cover from Russia and China, which have used their Security Council vetoes to prevent U.N. sanctions on Syria. <em>Caption: In this Jan. 25, 2005 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Moscow. (AP Photo/Sergei Chirikov)</em>

  • International Alliances

    The rebels have built an array of regional support that includes the wealthy Gulf states - led by Iran rival Saudi Arabia - and neighboring Turkey, which offers key supply routes. The West also backs the rebel forces, but has so far opposed mobilizing international military support similar to the NATO-led airstrikes that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya. <em>Caption: From left, Bahrain's Foreign Minister, Sheik Khalid bin AhmedI bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and United Arab Emirates' Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan seenduring a group photo during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Foreign ministers meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012 (AP Photo)</em>

  • Foreign Fighters

    Syria has drawn foreign fighters just as other recent conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan. No credible count on them exists, but anecdotal evidence suggests foreigners are coming to fight Assad. Rebel commanders downplay the presence of foreign fighters, saying their cause is a purely Syrian uprising. Mohammed Idilbi, a Syrian activist based in Turkey, says foreign ranks include Libyans, Yemenis, Tunisians and Lebanese. On Saturday, Syria's official SANA news agency claimed four Libyans were among rebels killed in Aleppo. <em>Caption: In this Sept. 18, 2011 file photo, former rebel fighters celebrate as smoke rises from Bani Walid, Libya, at the northern gate of the town. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini, File)</em>

  • Extremists

    U.S. officials and others worry that Syria could become a new foothold for insurgents inspired by al-Qaida. Assessing the degree of radical Islamic ideology in the civil war is impossible, but at least one group, the al-Nusra Front, has emerged and declared allegiance to the Free Syrian Army. Al-Nusra, or Victory, has claimed responsibility for several high profile attacks, including a double suicide bombing in March that killed 27 people in Damascus and the execution-style killing of a Syrian television presenter who was abducted in July. On Friday, U.S. intelligence officials said al-Qaida has advanced beyond isolated pockets in Syria and now is building a network of well-organized cells that could include several hundred militants. <em>Caption: This photo shows Al-Qaida's new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a still image from a web posting by al-Qaida's media arm, as-Sahab, Wednesday July 27, 2011. Al-Qaida's new leader has lauded protesters in Syria for seeking to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/IntelCenter) </em>