Ban urges action, ups pressure on Assad
Damascus - UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged the Security Council to act with "seriousness" on Syria as President Bashar Assad came under renewed pressure from his political and military foes.
"The situation has reached an unacceptable point," Ban told reporters on the sidelines of an energy summit in Abu Dhabi.
"I sincerely hope that the Security Council will handle this in a sense of seriousness and gravity and in a coherent manner," he said, urging member states to overcome their differences.
In October, Russia and China vetoed a Western draft resolution that would have condemned Assad's regime. Russia, which is sticking by its ally, later circulated an alternative that would have pointed the finger at both sides.
Assad's political and military opponents announced on Monday they have set up a liaison office and a "hotline to follow internal political developments on the ground".
The Syrian National Council, an umbrella group, said in a statement the decision was taken in talks on Saturday night with the Syrian Free Army (SFA), formed of deserters from the military.
The talks also focused on efforts to "restructure SFA units and create a modern and flexible structure... to allow for rapid deployment" and cope with the daily inflow of deserting officers and soldiers.
The FSA claims to have gathered some 40 000 fighters under its command since an anti-regime revolt broke out in Syria in mid-March. A government crackdown on dissent has since cost more than 5 000 lives, according to a UN estimate.
Dozens of people have died in FSA attacks on the regular army.
A media advisor to a top Syrian army defector, General Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, said last week that a special council is being set up to oversee all military operations.
The council will "help organise defections within the army and will be in contact with officers in the regular army to encourage large-scale rather than individual defections," he said.
On the diplomatic front, France accused Iran of repeatedly violating a UN arms embargo with exports to its protest-hit ally.
"These arms deliveries are illegal and deeply shocking because they benefit a regime that has chosen a kind of repression that the UN rights council has repeatedly said constitutes 'crimes against humanity'," said foreign ministry spokesperson Romain Nadal.
In fresh violence on Monday, at least five people including a woman were killed and nine others wounded as armed members of the shabiha pro-regime militia shot up a bakery in Homs and burnt it down, a rights group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said a 16-year-old girl was shot and fatally wounded by a sniper in Homs, and that security forces fired off mortars at Baliun village in Jabal al-Zawiya where hundreds of deserters had gathered.
Violent clashes pitted soldiers against defectors in the same province.
"Twenty soldiers defected. Five of them were killed, the 15 others were able to flee," the Britain-based Observatory said in statements received in Nicosia.
In Aleppo, security forces arrested nine students in a raid on the university of Syria's second largest city, the group added.
The latest violence, defections and arrests came a day after Damascus announced a general amnesty for crimes commited since the outbreak of unrest last March 15, a move which the opposition dismissed as a sham.
The amnesty, the third of its kind, covered infringements of the law on peaceful demonstrations, the possession of unlawful weapons and army desertion, the official Sana news agency reported.
But the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, stressing more than 60 000 have been detained since the start of the unrest, dismissed the amnesty as "neither serious nor credible".
"The regime is trying to make its unrealistic plans for reconciliation and national dialogue credible, and it is in this context that it is making such announcements, for propaganda purposes," the group said.
Human rights lawyer Anwar Bunni said "only hundreds" out of "thousands of people who have been detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration" were freed.
In the first public call by an Arab leader for a foreign military presence in Syria, the emir of Qatar said in an interview with US network CBS at the weekend that he favoured dispatching Arab troops to Syria to "stop the killing".
The emir's comments come with the Arab League set to review the work of its much-criticised Syria monitoring mission later this month.