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11:20pm UK, Thursday June 07, 2012
The danger of civil war in Syria is “imminent and real”, the UN’s chief has said, as tensions rise over the latest alleged massacre by government forces.
Ban Ki-Moon told reporters the country can “quickly go from tipping point to breaking point” and made a fresh appeal for calm on all sides following the atrocity, which is said to have claimed at least 78 lives.
“The Syrian people are bleeding,” he said after addressing the UN Security Council behind closed doors.
“They are angry. They want peace and dignity. Above all they want action.”
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said during the same news conference he was holding talks on bringing key world and regional powers into a contact group on the crisis.
Head of the UN mission in Syria, General Robert Mood
“There are discussions going on about setting up such a group,” he said.
Mr Ban earlier told the UN General Assembly that President Bashar al Assad had “lost all legitimacy” and said he wanted a “new level” of international action to halt the bloodshed in Syria.
Monitors have been unable to verify reports of the massacre in the province of Hama because they are being stopped at army checkpoints, the head of the UN mission in Syria said earlier.
General Robert Mood said a team was sent to the village of Mazraat al Qubeir to investigate claims that forces loyal to Mr Assad had killed dozens of people, including women and children.
The team will attempt to gain access again on Friday.
If reports of the slaughter are accurate, it will rank among the worst atrocities in Syria’s 15-month uprising.
Mousab Alhamadee, an activist based in Hama, said women and children “were burned inside their homes”.
But Syrian authorities have denied carrying out any massacre in Hama province, with state TV instead claiming troops found nine bodies after attacking a terrorist stronghold.
Sky News foreign editor Tim Marshall, who is in Syria, said he had attempted to reach the village, but was stopped.
He said: “We managed to get to Hama, but the problem is we got through three checkpoints, then, just as we were about the enter the town, we were stopped at another army checkpoint, which was full of militia as well, and a large 4WD vehicle pulled up in front of our car and cut it off.”
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has warned that Syria is “clearly on the edge” of a descent into further violence and called for more action by Russia and China to press Mr Assad’s regime to co-operate with peace efforts.
More than 100 people were killed in a massacre in Houla last month
He said: “Time is not yet at an end, it’s clearly running out.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said if the reports were true, it was “yet another absolutely brutal and sickening attack”.
“Frankly, the international community has got to condemn absolutely this regime and President Assad for what he is doing,” he added.
The White House has also condemned the latest reports of killings.
At least 108 people were killed in a two-day massacre that began on May 25 near the central town of Houla, most of them women and children who were summarily executed, according to the United Nations.