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UN chief alarmed by escalating violence in Syria

Dec. 17, 2012 9:29 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 9:29 A.M.)
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm on Sunday at the worsening violence in Syria, including the reported mass killing of Alawites and alleged firing of long-range missiles on Syrian territory, Ban's spokesman said.

"The Secretary-General is alarmed by the continued dramatic escalation of violence in Syria over the past several days, and the grave danger facing civilians in areas under fire," Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said in a statement.

"There have been extremely worrisome reports earlier this week of a mass killing of civilians in the village of Aqrab near Hama, as well as alleged firing of long-range missiles in some areas of the country," he said.

In the Aqrab incident, up to 200 members of President Bashar Assad's Alawite minority were injured or killed in an attack on their village in central Syria on Tuesday, opposition activists said. The death toll was still not known.

There have also been reports of the Syrian government using Scud missiles. NATO's US commander said on Friday the alliance was deploying the Patriot anti-missile system along Syria's northern frontier because Assad's forces had fired Scud missiles that landed near Turkish territory.

Nesirky said that "continued bombing raids by fixed-wing military aircrafts and attack helicopters on populated areas have been amply documented."

"Today's reports of aerial bombing amid intense violence resulting in many casualties among the Palestinian refugee population in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus are a matter of grave concern," he said.

Activists said fighter jets had bombed the Yarmouk camp, killing at least 25 people sheltering in a mosque.

Nesirky said Ban "calls on all sides to cease all forms of violence. The Secretary-General reminds all parties in Syria that they must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians."

"Targeting civilians or carrying out military operations in populated areas, in an indiscriminate or disproportionate fashion that harms civilians is a war crime," he added.

Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa told a Lebanese newspaper that neither forces of President Bashar Assad nor rebels can win the war in Syria. That is a view a number of UN officials and diplomats have voiced privately to Reuters.

The UN Security Council has been incapable of taking any meaningful action in the conflict. Veto powers Russia and China refuse to condemn Assad or support sanctions. Assad's government accuses Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States and other Western governments of supporting and arming the rebels, an allegation the governments deny.

Meanwhile, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has failed to bridge the gaps between the Russian and US positions on Syria, which UN diplomats say is at the heart of the longstanding deadlock on the Security Council.

Nesirky said Ban "reiterates his call on the international community to make every effort to stop the tragic spiral of violence in Syria and urgently to promote an inclusive political process leading to a peaceful political transition."
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