Ban sees possible crimes against humanity in Syria

UN chief says lack of UN action doesn't give Syrian gov't license to continue assault; Barak predicts Assad's fall "within weeks."

By REUTERS
February 16, 2012 13:53
2 minute read.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 390 (R). (photo credit: Michael Buholzer / Reuters)

 
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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called on Syrian authorities to stop killing civilians and said potential crimes against humanity were taking place in the country as 14 more deaths were reported in the city of Hama.

"We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old killed and abused. We see almost a certain crimes against humanity," he told reporters after meeting Austrian President Heinz Fischer on Thursday.

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Ban said he had read of Syrian President Bashar Assad's plan to hold a referendum that could lead to multi-party elections within 90 days but said the priority now had to be halting the bloodshed in an uprising against Assad's rule.

"What is important at this time is that first Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people, must stop violence. This violence should stop from all sides, whether by national security forces or by opposition forces," he said.

Ban, who opened an international conference on fighting the illicit drugs trade from Afghanistan, said he would meet the foreign ministers of Russia and France in Vienna on Thursday to discuss stalled UN Security Council action on Syria.

He called it "regrettable" that the Council could not agree so far on a resolution, and said: "Now that is behind us. We have to look to the future."

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Ban said thousands had died, 25,000 people had fled Syria, an estimated 70,000 had been displaced within the country and the numbers were rising by the day.

"Lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government license to continue its assault on its own people. The longer we debate the more people will die."

At least 14 people were killed by Syrian forces in the town of Kfar Nubouzeh near Hama on Thursday, activists said.

Footage on YouTube showed at least eight bodies, most without legs, lying on the floor of what looked like a hospital.

Assad's forces launched an attack on the city of Hama and its surroundings on Tuesday.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that Syrian President Bashar Assad will fall "within weeks,"  during a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Naoki Tanaka in Tokyo.

During the meeting, Barak said that Israel was closely tracking possible arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah and views such activity "gravely."

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