U.N. chief warns of 'alarming upsurge' of Syria bombs

UNITED NATIONS Thu May 10, 2012 2:23am IST

A Syrian soldier climbs on a tank at a checkpoint at one of the entrances to Ariha city, during a field visit by U.N. observers to the Idlib areas, May 9, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled al- Hariri

A Syrian soldier climbs on a tank at a checkpoint at one of the entrances to Ariha city, during a field visit by U.N. observers to the Idlib areas, May 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled al- Hariri

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the world body on Wednesday of a worrying increase in bomb attacks in Syria, where people continue to be killed every day and a 14-month old revolt shows no sign of subsiding.

Speaking to the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly, he also said that there was a narrow window of opportunity to avert a full-scale civil war in Syria, where a U.N.-backed ceasefire agreement announced last month has failed to take hold.

"There is no escaping the reality that we see every day," he said. "Innocent civilians dying, government troops and heavy armor in city streets, growing numbers of arrests and allegations of brutal torture, an alarming upsurge in the use of IEDs and other explosive devices throughout the country."

IEDs are improvised explosive devices. Often planted along roads and detonated remotely, IEDs have proven to be especially deadly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ban was addressing U.N. member states a day after U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan told the Security Council that peace in Syria remains elusive nearly a month after a nationwide truce was announced, while Washington declared it was stepping up "non-lethal" aid to Syria's opposition.

"The government and all elements of the opposition must realize that we have a brief window to stop the violence, a brief opportunity to create an opening for political engagement between the government and those seeking change," Ban said.

"If this opportunity is not seized, I fear that what ... Annan has warned about will come to pass - a full-scale civil war with catastrophic effects within Syria and across the region," he said.

Ban also discussed a large explosion that hit cars accompanying U.N. monitors in the southern Syrian province of Deraa on Wednesday, injuring eight Syrian guards. It was not clear who was responsible for the blast, the latest in series of bombings targeting Syrian state security.

Echoing earlier comments from Major General Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. monitors, Ban said the attack was unacceptable and "an example of what the Syrian people have endured."

"And it is a blunt reminder of the risks of violence escalating even further," he said.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council on Tuesday there has been a decrease in the use of heavy weapons by the Syrian army and a decline in large-scale military operations, though more discreet military operations continue, including large-scale arrests, U.N. envoys said.

As part of Annan's six-point peace plan, the U.N. Security Council has authorized the deployment of up to 300 unarmed monitors to supervise a truce. Over 60 of them are in place now and that number is expected to exceed 100 in the coming days.

Annan's plan called for an end to all violence by government and rebel forces, humanitarian aid access, and dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at starting a "political transition" for the country.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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