The UN rights chief has made a scathing report to the UN General Assembly about Syria's deadly crackdown on dissent, saying the scale of abuse indicates crimes against humanity have been committed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime during the past 11 months.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a special session of the General Assembly on February 13 she has received testimony from "credible sources" showing that Syrian forces are carrying out an "indiscriminate attack on civilian areas" in the central city of Homs by shelling "densely populated neighborhoods" there.
Homs is a stronghold for antiregime demonstrators who want an end to decades of rule by Syria's Allawite minority, of which President Assad is a member.
Resentment against Allawite rule has run strong among Syria's Sunni community since the mass killing of up to 40,000 Sunnis in Hama 30 years ago by forces under the command of Assad's father, then-President Hafez al-Assad.
Pillay said that an onslaught is now continuing in Homs with the complicity of regime authorities "at the highest level."
"I am outraged by these serious violations," she added. "I am very distressed that the continued ruthless repression and deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions might soon plunge Syria into civil war."
Syrian tanks are seen in Bab Amro near the city of Homs on February 12.
Pillay has said that Russia and China's veto on February 4 of a proposed UN Security Council resolution on Syria -- a peace plan drafted by the Arab League and with Western backing -- appears to have "emboldened" Assad's regime to commit a "massacre" in Homs.
"In our opinion crimes against humanity are being committed [in Syria] and the perpetrators must be held to account," Pillay said.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari rejected Pillay's report and questioned her credibility, saying she had taken an "unprincipled" stance against Assad's government.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, to discuss a new Arab League proposal to deploy a peacekeeping force involving the United Nations and the Arab League to Syria.
Lavrov signaled that Moscow first wants to see some kind of a cease-fire established in Syria before any foreign force would be deployed.
"We are studying this initiative and we hope our friends in the Arab League will give us some clarification on several of its points," Lavrov said.
Russia has lucrative arms contracts with Assad's regime and has been the main arms supplier for Syrian government forces since 2006.
Moscow also has had a deal since 1971 with Syria that allows Russia to lease a naval base for use by Russian warships -- including nuclear submarines and surface ships -- at the port of Tartus on Syria's Mediterranean Sea coast.
The deal includes plans for eventually transforming the Russian facility into a permanent base for Russia's navy.
With agency reports