REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Syria's leaders must stop "continuing to kill their own people," launch an inclusive dialogue and undertake decisive political reforms "before it is too late," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.
"This killing must stop. Immediately," Ban told reporters in Bern, Switzerland.
Meantime, an opposition group seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad said at least 23 more people had been killed in the country, including 19 in the violence-racked city of Homs, a center of the anti-regime protest movement.
[Updated, 3:51 p.m., Oct. 17: Monday's death toll has increased to 32, including 24 in Homs, according to the opposition group.]
The group also accused the government of detaining doctors who treat demonstrators shot and beaten by government forces. Many wounded have sought home care because they fear going to hospitals and clinics subject to raids by security officers, the group said.
There was no immediate response from Syrian authorities. Last week, the government accused "terrorists" of attacking the main hospital in Homs and trying to assassinate the head of the emergency room.
[Updated, 3:51 p.m., Oct. 17: The latest clashes came a day after the Arab League declined to suspend the membership of Syria, as some nations had sought, and called for a dialogue within 15 days between Damascus and the Syrian opposition. The Syrian government has said it has no intention of having talks with opposition groups calling for the ouster of Assad.]
The U.N. chief, who has previously accused Assad of "broken promises," called on Damascus to allow a U.N. team to investigate more than 3,000 killings in Syria since large-scale protests erupted in March.
The cause of the deaths is a central source of dispute between the government and its critics. The Syrian government has restricted journalists, making it difficult to determine who is killing whom.
The Syrian regime blames armed "terrorists" acting on a "foreign agenda" for the deaths, and says that more than 1,100 security officers have been killed. But many have dismissed the government's version of events.
Groups calling for Assad's ouster allege that security officers have attacked peaceful protesters, killing civilians. The Obama administration and other Western governments have called for Assad to step down. Iran and other allies of Damascus have pledged support for Assad and denounced foreign intervention in Syria's affairs.
The Assad government says it has launched reforms, including a planned revision of the nation's constitution. Opponents dismiss the moves as a face-saving tactic.
Last week, the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, assailed a campaign of "ruthless repression and killings" in Syria and called for international steps to prevent a "full-blown civil war."
This month, Russia and China, two allies of Damascus, vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution at the U.N. Security Council condemning Syria's crackdown on protests as a "grave and systematic" violation of human rights. A new proposed U.N. resolution could be forthcoming, diplomats have said.
"It is a totally unacceptable situation that more than 3,000 people have been killed," the U.N. secretary-general said, urging Assad to accept a U.N. inquiry "as soon as possible, to find out the exact situation there."
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in Bern, Switzerland, on Monday. Credit: Lukas Lehmann / EPA