More than 100,000 people have now been killed in the Syrian civil war, UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Thursday, as he appealed for new efforts to convene a peace conference.
The UN chief and US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at the United Nations there could be no military solution to the 28-month-old conflict, which began as peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring but rapidly boiled over into an all-out war.
“More than 100,000 people have been killed, millions of people have either been displaced or become refugees in neighbouring countries,” Ban said.
“We have to bring this to an end. The military and violent actions must be stopped by both parties, and it is thus imperative to have a peace conference in Geneva as soon as possible.”
Violence continued to rage in the flashpoint city of Homs while a car bombing in Damascus killed 17 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The United States and Russia vowed in May to press for a follow-up to a peace conference held in Geneva last year that set out a transition plan.
However, divisions in the international community and disagreements between the Syrian regime and the fractured opposition have stymied efforts to convene the meeting.
As the UN chief pressed for peace efforts, the main Syrian opposition group again demanded US arms, saying the situation had grown “desperate” following recent regime advances.
President Bashar al-Assad is “pursuing a military victory using indiscriminate weapons ranging from chemical weapons to cluster bombs,” Opposition Syrian National Coalition president Ahmad Jarba said after meeting with Kerry.
“To deny us the right to self-defense is to risk that the regime will survive: thousands will be executed, the repression will continue without end.”
Kerry declined to comment on any US military aid, saying he remained focused on trying to launch peace talks.
“There is no military solution to Syria, there is only a political solution. That will require leadership in order to bring people to the table,” Kerry said.
He said he spoke on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia — Assad’s main international backer — and that both Washington and Moscow were committed to pressing ahead with the Geneva process.
Ban has previously said he would like a peace conference in September. But many UN diplomats now doubt the two sides can be brought to the negotiating table at all.
“The chances of a meaningful peace conference are now zero, but the US and UN can’t admit that,” said Richard Gowan of New York University’s Center for International Cooperation.
Washington is currently providing humanitarian and non-lethal military aid to rebel groups.
US President Barack Obama’s administration promised an expansion of military aid to Syria’s rebel forces in June after accusing Assad’s forces of using chemical weapons, but such aid has yet to be disbursed.
The United Nations has meanwhile been seeking permission from Damascus to investigate claims that both sides have used chemical weapons in the conflict.
Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN inspection team, and Angela Kane, the UN high representative for disarmament, on Thursday concluded a 24-hour visit to Damascus.
The fighting in Syria was intense on Thursday, especially around rebel areas of Homs, which the army has besieged for more than a year, said the Observatory.
Homs-based activist Yazan said the current army offensive was entering its fourth week, and that the historic Khaled Bin Walid mosque had been hit by regime shelling for a second time this week.
The Syrian Observatory, which gets its information from a network of activists on the ground and medics, said a car bomb in Jaramana, a Christian-Druze suburb of Damascus, killed 17 people. State television had earlier reported a toll of seven dead.
At least 2,014 people, mostly combatants, have been killed since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan two weeks ago, according to the Observatory.
The toll among combatants has spiked “because the intensity of the fighting is escalating”, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The latest reporter to get kidnapped in the conflict, Polish photojournalist Marcin Suder, was abducted in northern Syria, Reporters Without Borders said, calling for his immediate release.
It said masked gunmen abducted him on Wednesday in a raid on a media centre in Saraqeb, in Idlib province.