SOUTH Africa on Thursday abstained from a vote on a Western-backed United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at pressuring President Bashar al-Assad's government to end the escalating civil war in Syria.

Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim will brief the media on the vote and the situation in Syria, in Pretoria, on Friday.

Russia and China vetoed the UN resolution, while Pakistan also abstained from the vote.

The 11-2 vote was the third double veto of a resolution addressing the Syria crisis, now in its 17th month, by Damascus's most important allies.

The key stumbling block was the West's insistence that a new resolution include the threat of nonmilitary sanctions to step up pressure against Mr al-Assad's regime.

The sanctions are under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which also includes provisions authorising the use of force, but no force was authorised in the British draft.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said the resolution should never have been put to a vote because the sponsors knew it had no chance of adoption.

Mr Ebrahim said on Thursday the violence in Syria was "spinning out of control".

"South Africa deplores the continuing violence in Syria, which is spinning out of control," he said. "Our highest priority is to stop the killing and end the suffering of innocent civilians."

South Africa has called for an immediate end to the violence and for talks to reach a Syria-led transition reflecting the will of the Syrians.

"There is no military solution to the dispute. It is for this reason that South Africa strongly supports the tireless efforts of Mr Annan," Mr Ebrahim said.

He said the suicide bomb attack in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Wednesday, which killed senior government officials including Defence Minister Daoud Rajha, and "the many horrific massacres" of the past few weeks showed there were two sides to the conflict.

Mr al-Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and Gen Hassan Turkmani, head of the government's crisis cell on the uprising, were also killed.

Mr Ebrahim said the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent had classified the situation as being an internal armed conflict or, in layman's terms, a civil war.

Such classifications show the situation has reached the threshold of a civil war in which all parties have responsibilities and obligations under international humanitarian law.

"The international community must urgently respond to the escalating violence in Syria in a stern and balanced manner, based on the realities on the ground," said Mr Ebrahim.

The UN Security Council should "express strong and unified support for Mr Annan and call on all parties to cease the violence immediately", he said.

With AP and Sapa