U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ratcheted up the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday to end his 15-month onslaught against an opposition seeking to oust him, condemning a reported new massacre in Syria as an "unspeakable barbarity."
Ban, speaking at the start of a special U.N. General Assembly session on the Syrian crisis, called again on Assad to immediately implement international mediator Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan that both Damascus and the opposition publicly embraced in April but continue to ignore.
"Today's news reports of another massacre in (Mazraat) al-Qubeir ... are shocking and sickening," he told the 193-nation assembly. "A village apparently surrounded by Syrian forces. The bodies of innocent civilians lying where they were, shot. Some allegedly burned or slashed with knives.
"We condemn this unspeakable barbarity and renew our determination to bring those responsible to account," he said.
Ban said U.N. monitors were initially denied access to the site, where opposition activists say at least 78 people were killed. "They are working now to get to the scene," he said. "And I just learned a few minutes ago that while trying to do so the U.N. monitors were shot at with small arms."
Ban was addressing the General Assembly ahead of Annan's expected presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday of a new proposal in a last-ditch effort to rescue his failing peace plan for Syria, where 15 months of violence have brought it to the brink of civil war.
Speaking to the General Assembly after Ban, Annan condemned the Mazraat al-Qubeir massacre and acknowledged that his peace plan was not working. He suggested that those who fail to comply with the peace plan should be penalized, a remark the United States and its European allies will likely welcome.
"As we demand compliance with international law and the six-point (peace) plan, it must be made clear that there will be consequences if compliance is not forthcoming," Annan said.
Russia and China, which have veto powers on the U.N. Security Council, have made clear they would strike down any attempts to impose sanctions on Damascus.
The Syrian opposition and Western and Gulf nations seeking Assad's ouster increasingly see Annan's peace plan as doomed due to the Syrian government's determination to use military force to crush an increasingly militarized opposition.
RUSSIA CONTINUES TO PROTECT ASSAD
Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, took the floor to respond to the condemnations of his government but the transmission of his rebuttal for reporters and others not permitted into assembly hall was cut-off for several minutes.
Ja'afari told the assembly that the new reported killings were "truly an atrocious massacre. It is unjustifiable." The Syrian government has blamed recent atrocities on the opposition and Islamist extremists who it brands as terrorists.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin warned countries arming Syria's opposition that such weapons could end up in the hands of "terrorists" and said that an investigation of the latest massacre should be undertaken. Assad's ally Russia is Syria's principal arms supplier. Russia has a key naval port in Syria.
The representative of Iran, Assad's other main ally, echoed Churkin's points and hinted that a full-scale civil war in Syria could spread beyond its borders.
"There is ... an urgent need for all those who are providing money, logistics and arms to the opposition groups to stop that immediately. They should know that the smoke from the fire in Syria will, in one way or another, cover the region as a whole," Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told the assembly.
The conflict has already sparked turmoil in Lebanon and on the border of Turkey. Syria accuses Qatar and Saudi Arabia of arming the opposition, while the United Nations has said some recent bomb attacks appeared to have been the work of extremist militants.
Libyan envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi, who was the first Libyan diplomat to defect from former leader Muammar Gaddafi's government, called for suspending Syria from the United Nations and establishing "safe zones" along Syria's border regions where people fleeing the violence can seek refuge.
The core of Annan's new proposal, diplomats said, would be the establishment of a contact group that would bring together Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and key regional players with influence on Syria's government and the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran.
By creating such a contact group, envoys said, Annan would also be trying to break the deadlock among the five permanent council members that has pitted veto powers Russia and China against the United States, Britain and France, and prevented any meaningful U.N. action on the Syrian conflict, envoys said.
It would attempt to map out a "political transition" for Syria that would lead to Assad stepping aside and the holding of free elections, envoys said. One diplomat said the idea was "vaguely similar" to a political transition deal for Yemen that led to the president's ouster.
The main point of Annan's proposal, they said, is to get Russia to commit to the idea of a Syrian political transition, which remains the thrust of Annan's peace plan, which both the Syrian government and opposition said they accepted earlier this year but have failed to implement.
"We're trying to get the Russians to understand that if they don't give up on Assad, they stand to lose all their interests in Syria if this thing blows up into a major regional war involving Lebanon, Iran, Saudis," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "So far the Russians have not agreed."