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UNITED NATIONS

UN rights body extends Syria war crimes mission

The U.N.'s top human rights body on Friday extended by six months the mission of its independent expert panel probing alleged war crimes in Syria's 18-month conflict.

The panel led by Brazilian professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has blamed Syria's government forces for the majority of serious abuses since the uprising began in March 2011.

Last week it submitted a confidential second list of suspected war crimes perpetrators to the U.N. human rights office. The panel's mandate was due to expire at the end of the month.

Members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council voted 41 to three in favor of a resolution put forward by Arab states. Three countries abstained. Russia, China and Cuba opposed the resolution.

The resolution, which extends the mission until the council's next session in March, was drawn up by a number of Arab, Western and developing countries.

Syria's ambassador, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, denounced the resolution and lashed out at those who backed it -- in particular Arab states who are funding Syrian opposition fighters.

"They have decided to draft a resolution that is very tolerant to Al Qaeda," he said, insisting that Syria will "never become an extremist Islamic emirate."

The U.S. ambassador, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said that the investigative panel "has been doing its job" -- notably to turn up information that could one day be used to prosecute those behind Syria's bloodshed.

The panel's members "will help ensure that this will not be a case where impunity prevails, but rather that those responsible for these crimes against the Syrian people will face justice and accountability," she said.