SOUTH Africa had "no option" but to abstain on a vote this week on a Western-backed United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria, as the unbalanced resolution would have led to an escalation of violence in the country, Deputy International Relations and Co-operation Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said on Friday.

On Thursday, South Africa abstained from voting on the resolution, which was aimed at pressuring President Bashar al-Assad's government to end the turmoil in Syria, where hundreds are dying nearly every day, adding to a death toll of more than 17000 in 16 months of protests and a violent government crackdown that spawned a militarised revolt.

The 11-2 Security Council vote on Thursday saw Russia and China exercise their power of veto, while Pakistan also abstained.

Addressing the media at a briefing in Pretoria, Mr Ebrahim said the resolution had not provided for measures against the opposition for non-compliance with a plan of action drawn up by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League joint special envoy for Syria, and had therefore been "unbalanced".

South Africa's recommendations to balance the text had been rejected, which left it "no option but to abstain in the vote", he said.

Mr Ebrahim said South Africa's opposition to the resolution had not been "merely an issue of language", as a one-sided resolution would "only make the situation on the ground worse".

The Syrian government would be pushed further into pursuing a military solution to the conflict, and the opposition would be emboldened to reject talks, he said.

Mr Ebrahim said he could not understand why the vote went ahead when Russia had indicated it would use its veto power.

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

The vote went ahead "probably to score some type of political point", said Mr Ebrahim, adding: "We are therefore deeply disappointed that the council was not able to apply pressure to both sides to bring an end to the violence."

Mr Ebrahim said the division and "narrow interests" of the five permanent members of the Security Council - China, France, Russia, the UK and the US - prevented the situation from being addressed in a "balanced and mature manner".

This led to a failure of the council to execute its primary mandate of maintaining international peace and security, he said.

The minister said South Africa would keep pushing for a balanced resolution that would recognise "there could be no military solution" and result in Syria-led talks and, ultimately, a peaceful transition to democracy.

Ian Davidson, international relations and co-operation spokesman for the Democratic Alliance, said on Friday while he "could understand where Mr Ebrahim is coming from", South Africa was now risking "being left on the wrong side of history once again".

In abstaining from this vote, he said, South Africa was losing credibility as a country that believed in human rights and a just international order, and was alienating the Western and Arab League nations more directly affected by the Syrian conflict.

gernetzkyk@bdfm.co.za