“Such statements, issued amid continued killings, offer the regime the opportunity to push ahead with its repression in order to crush the revolt by the Syrian people,” said Samir Nashar, member of the executive committee of the Syrian National Council.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Council’s unanimous statement had sent a clear message to Syria to end all violence, but the appeal had little impact on the ground, where rebels are seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Opposition sources said Syrian tanks had heavily shelled a large neighbourhood in the city of Hama on Thursday after fighting between Free Syrian Army rebels and pro-Assad forces.
The shelling destroyed houses in the Arbaeen neighbourhood of northeast Hama, which has been at the forefront of the revolt. Opposition sources said at least 20 people have died in army attacks in the area in the last two days.
Syrian troops also attempted to storm the northern town of Sermeen on Thursday, killing one man and wounding dozens, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, quoting its network of contacts within Syria.
“Syrian forces are still not able to get inside the town because of fighting but they are shelling Sermeen and using heavy machine guns,” said SOHR head Rami Abdelrahman.
Fighting was likewise reported in the central Hama province and the southern city of Deraa, where several soldiers died in an ambush, and loyalist forces conducted raids in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, he added.
The Security Council statement, which was supported by both Russia and China, marking a rare moment of global unity over the crisis, backed a peace drive by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and warned of “further steps” if Syria failed to respond.
Mr Annan’s six-point peace proposal calls for a ceasefire, political dialogue between the government and opposition, and full access for aid agencies. It also says the army should stop using heavy weapons in populated areas and pull troops back.
While the UN statement, which lacks the legal force of a resolution, talks of the need for political transition in Syria, it does not demand that Assad to step down – something both the rebels and the Arab League have called for.
“In clear and unmistakable terms, the Security Council called for an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations,” U.N. chief Ban said in a speech in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
Syria’s official news agency appeared to play down the Council statement, saying it contained “no warnings or signals”.
At least 8,000 people have died in the revolt, according to UN figures issued a week ago, and diplomats have warned that without a swift resolution, the conflict could spread and degrade already tense sectarian relations across the region.
Underlining the dangers, several Syrian shells landed in the Lebanese border village of al-Qaa and nearby fields late Wednesday, wounding one person, after heavy artillery was heard on the Syrian side of the frontier, residents said.
“More than five shells landed in the fields and in the village,” a farmer in al-Qaa told Reuters. Another resident said one shell had detonated next to the main school.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) group said on Thursday Syrian security forces were committing “serious abuses” in Qusair, a city in the province of Homs, near the Lebanese border.
“Following their bloody siege of Homs, the Assad forces are applying their same brutal methods in Qusair,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the HRW Middle East director.
“Having seen the devastation inflicted on Homs, the Russian government should stop arms sales to the Syrian government or risk becoming further implicated in human rights violations.”
Russia has defended its long-standing military ties with Syria and has said it sees no reason to modify them.
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