DAMASCUS: Russia stood firm in the face of growing international pressure for tougher action over Syria, rejecting military intervention and questioning sanctions as fears of civil war grew.
And as world leaders Friday voiced fears the violence-wracked nation stood on the brink of civil war, the UN Human Rights Council ordered an independent probe to hunt those guilty of last week's massacre in Houla.
The London-based Syrian Observatory says as many as 2,300 of the more than 13,400 people killed since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March last year have died since April 12.
But despite the relentless violence, there are sharp differences between Arab and Western governments and Damascus allies Beijing and Moscow on the way forward.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, warned the situation in Syria was "extremely dangerous" and said he saw emerging signs of a civil war.
But he struck a fiery tone in a joint press conference with Hollande, saying "sanctions hardly ever work in an efficient manner" and indicating that Bashar al-Assad's departure would not in itself resolve the crisis.
"What is happening in Libya? What is happening in Iraq? Has it become safer there?" he said in Paris. "We propose to act in an accurate, balanced manner at least in Syria."
But Hollande kept up the pressure for decisive action, insisting that Assad's departure was "a prerequisite for a political transition" and that "there must be sanctions" against his regime.
"Bashar al-Assad's regime has conducted itself in an unacceptable and intolerable manner. It has committed acts that disqualify itself" from governing, said Hollande.
Earlier, Merkel and Putin found common ground on backing the peace mission of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan but the former UN chief himself admitted to frustration at the slow progress he was making in staunching the bloodshed. (AFP)