GENEVA - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Friday for the international community to take action to protect the civilian population in Syria from "ruthless repression" as the country slides into civil war.

More than 4,000 people have been killed, including 307 children, in the military crackdown since March and more than 14,000 people are believed to be held in detention, she told an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council.

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"The Syrian authorities' continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war. In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," Pillay said.

Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, said that "the need for international accountability has even greater urgency today."

Earlier on Friday, an opposition group said that Syrian army deserters killed eight people in an attack on an intelligence building in the north of the country.

It said the attack took place on Thursday in Idlib province, between the towns of Jisr al-Shughour and the Mediterranean city of Latakia.

"A group of army defectors ... attacked the Air Force Intelligence center," the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "A clash ensued for three hours which lead to the death of at least eight members of the Air Force Intelligence."

The Observatory and other activists also said at least 20 civilians were killed by Syrian security forces across the country on Thursday, mainly in the provinces of Hama and Homs.

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Turkey, Syria's biggest trade partner, suspended all financial credit dealings with Damascus and froze its assets, joining the Arab League in isolating Assad over his military crackdown. The United States urged other countries to follow suit.

The world's largest Muslim body, the Organization of Islamic Conference, urged Syria on Wednesday to "immediately stop the use of excessive force" against its citizens so as to avert any prospect of foreign intervention.

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