The UN General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution backing an Arab League plan that calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime.
In addition, UN Secretary--General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian regime of committing “almost certain” crimes against humanity as activists reported fresh violence and the arrest of several prominent dissidents, including a US-born blogger.
The 193-member world body voted 137 to 12 on the Arab--sponsored resolution, with 17 abstentions, and though there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and its resolutions are non-binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues. Russia and China, who recently vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council, voted against the -measure along with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and others who heeded Syria’s appeal against the measure.
Thursday’s high “yes” vote was the strongest condemnation so far of al-Assad. The resolution called on the Syrian leader to hand over power to his vice president and immediately stop the bloody crackdown that has killed over 5,400 people.
“Today, the UN General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria: the world is with you,” US Ambassador Susan Rice said in a statement.
Al-Assad “has never been more isolated. A rapid transition to democracy in Syria has garnered the resounding support of the international community. Change must now come,” she added.
In Vienna, the UN secretary--general demanded the Syrian regime stop using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and al-Assad’s opponents.
“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately,” Ban told reporters. “Hospitals used as torture centers. Children as young as ten years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity.”
Syrian activists said government forces attacked Daraa on Thursday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city where the uprising against al-Assad erupted 11 months ago. They also reported intense clashes between army defectors and government troops in the central province of Hama.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops “committed a new massacre” near the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour, killing 19 people — 11 of them from the same family. The report was impossible to confirm.
The push into Daraa, located near the Jordanian border about 130km south of Damascus, -followed sieges of the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent.
Also on Thursday, the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists, reported the arrest of several activists, including Razan Ghazzawi, a US-born blogger and press freedom campaigner.
Ghazzawi, who was born in Miami, Florida, was arrested early in the uprising and charged with spreading false information, but she was released after about two weeks.
The committee said security forces also arrested leading human rights activist Mazen Darwish and others during a raid on their Damascus office. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.
The Observatory said security forces killed at least one civilian in Daraa, and that clashes between defectors and government troops there left at least three regime soldiers dead.