BEIRUT -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Syrian government Thursday to abide by the terms of a U.N.-brokered peace plan, declaring that the international organization did not employ monitors to Syria “just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents.”
Speaking in Istanbul, Turkey, Ban warned that the recent massacre in Syria of more than 100 people, mostly women and children, “could plunge Syria into a civil war — a civil war from which the country would never recover,” the Associated Press reported.
The U.N. chief urged the Syrian government to implement the U.N.-crafted peace plan. “The U.N. did not deploy in Syria just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents,” Ban said, A.P. reported. “We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities.”
Almost 300 unarmed U.N. monitors have been deployed in Syria as part of the peace plan brokered in April by the U.N.’s special envoy, Kofi Annan. However, violence has continued, most dramatically in the massacre last week of more than 100 people, mostly women and children killed in their homes, in the Syrian township of Houla.
U.N. monitors confirmed that massacre and the subsequent execution-style slayings this week of 13 men near the eastern city of Deir Elzour.
U.N. human rights investigators have said the evidence indicates that the killers in Houla were pro-government paramilitary forces known as shabiha, enforcers for the government of President Bashar Assad. Syrian authorities have blamed “terrorists” for the killings, which have drawn an international outcry and galvanized world attention on Syria.
On Thursday, Syria announced that an investigation into the Houla massacre had determined that the killings were committed by "armed gangs." Left unanswered, however, was a key question: Who controlled the gangs? The Syrian opposition and various governments have blamed Syrian authorities, but Syria has blamed "terrorists" trying to incite civil conflict.
U.N. officials have been urging Assad to take “concrete steps” to implement the peace plan, which, among other things, calls for a withdrawal of troops and armor from populated areas and a release of detainees.
On Thursday, Syria announced that it had released 500 prisoners who “did not commit murders.” The government has previously announced mass releases of detainees, but human rights officials say thousands more government opponents remain locked up in Syria.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses a summit of the Alliance of Civilizations, a forum promoting understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday, calling on Syria to stop its attacks. Credit: Associated Press