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At U.N., rival proposals on Syria

They are in accord on adding monitors, but at odds on sanctions.

UNITED NATIONS - European nations and Russia proposed rival U.N. resolutions Friday, both calling for expanding the number of U.N. cease-fire monitors in Syria from 30 to 300 but disagreeing on possible sanctions and on how quickly the larger observer force should get on the ground.

After hours of negotiations by Security Council experts, Russia circulated a merged text, and council ambassadors met behind closed doors Friday evening to discuss it.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was "looking forward to adoption" of a resolution on Saturday.

But Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said "there are some difficulties" with the new text, and India's U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said "there are some problems that need to be resolved."

The key difference in the original texts - obtained by the Associated Press - is whether there should be a sustained cease-fire before the expanded force is deployed.

The European draft would authorize a force of 300 observers but condition its deployment to notification from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Syria has implemented its pledge to withdraw all troops and heavy weapons from cities and towns "to his satisfaction." Ban accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday of failing to honor a peace plan that took effect a week ago.

The draft resolution stresses that it is critically important to create "a sustained cessation of violence" and establish "a conducive environment" for the large mission to deploy.

The draft proposed by Russia, Syria's closest ally, would immediately establish the 300-strong force without any conditions, though it does underline the importance that international envoy Kofi Annan's attaches to Syria's withdrawal of troops and weapons.

Meanwhile, diplomats meeting Friday in Geneva to discuss the humanitarian situation agreed to a draft plan to provide aid to civilians affected by the fighting.