By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 5 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon slammed the Security Council on Wednesday for failing to take stronger action on Syria, saying that its paralysis over how to end the 18-month conflict was harming the Syrian people and damaging its own credibility.
As Syria spirals deeper into civil war, the 15-member council has become deadlocked with Russia and China blocking three Western-backed resolutions that criticized Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and threatened sanctions.
"The council's paralysis does the Syrian people harm. It also damages its own credibility," Ban told an informal General Assembly debate on the 2005 U.N. concept of "responsibility to protect" civilians threatened by their own governments.
"You have all seen the horrible images and reports coming out of Syria. Aerial bombardments of civilians. Mothers weeping, clutching their dead children in their arms," he said. "Inaction cannot be an option for our community of nations."
The United Nations says that nearly 20,000 people have been killed during the conflict that began as peaceful pro-democracy protests and had grown into a civil war, pitting a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against the ruling Assad family, who are members of the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
"We have seen the immense human cost of failing to protect," Ban said. "We cannot look the other way while the increasing sectarian violence spirals out of control, the humanitarian emergency escalates, and the crisis spills over borders."
Western Security Council members agree with Ban. German U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, Security Council president for September, described the crisis in Syria on Wednesday as concerning and dramatic and "yet the council is divided."
"The price of lacking unity has to be paid by the Syrian people and that's most deplorable," he said. "Council members are not happy about the lack of unity and it's certainly to the detriment of this body and the United Nations in general."
Following the third veto of a resolution on Syria by Russia and China in July, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the council has hit a "substantive dead end." Most recently, a council meeting organized by France on Syria's aid crisis on Thursday achieved nothing new.
"The council is deeply divided," French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud, who was president of the council for August, told reporters on Friday. "We haven't had three vetoes on the same topic since the cold war."
"So in political terms it is nearly impossible to move forward," he said. "Even on humanitarian issues, it was impossible to get an outcome. It was impossible to find a common ground."