21 killed in Syria as escalation worries UN chief

21 killed in Syria as escalation worries UN chief

At least 21 people were killed and 15 injured Monday in a wave of fresh violence in Syria, as the UN Secretary General expressed worries over the escalating violence.

"Syrian security forces killed seven people and wounded more than 15 others in the area of Raka, in northern Syria, while they were staging a sit-in as Arab observers were visiting the area," Abu Haythem, a Syrian activist in the area, told dpa.

At the opening of a World Future Energy summit on Monday in Abu Dhabi, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "The casualties have reached such an unacceptable stage we cannot let the situation continue this way. I hope the UN Security Council handles Syria in a coherent manner and with a sense of gravity."

Ban did not recommend any specific UN action.

More than 5,000 people have died in Damascus's crackdown on dissidents, according to UN estimates. Syrian authorities say 2,000 members of the security forces have also been killed.

The opposition Syrian Free Army, made up of defectors from the regular army, urged the Arab League in a statement late Monday to let the United Nations handle the Syrian crisis. In a statement signed by its leader, Riyad al-Asaad, the Syrian Free Army called on the 22-member Arab bloc to "immediately transfer the case of Syria to the UN Security Council."

Seven people were killed by security forces in the restive regions of Zabadni and Homs, while six army defectors were killed near the Turkish border, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa.

The state-run news agency SANA said an "armed terrorist group" had shot dead Brigadier-General Mohamed Abdul Hamid al-Awad and wounded his driver near Damascus.

More than 400 people have been reported killed in Syria since monitors were deployed on December 26 to oversee an Arab League peace plan requiring Syrian authorities to withdraw tanks from the streets, halt violence and release political prisoners.

The head of the Arab monitoring mission is due to report to an Arab League committee on Thursday, ahead of Sunday's meeting of Arab League foreign ministers to consider their next step on Syria and the future of the monitoring mission.

Qatar, which heads the league's special committee on Syria, has suggested sending Arab troops to Syria to stop the killing, which is likely to be rejected by some other Arab League countries, most notably Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria.

Activists said Monday that more than 200 political prisoners have been released since al-Assad proclaimed an amnesty on Sunday for "crimes" committed during the uprising.

Rami Abdel Rahman confirmed the release, but said that "there are still hundreds more who are held without charge and are being tortured daily."

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