Conflict continues to turn screw in Syrian civilians

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The 20-month conflict in Syria has reached “new and appalling heights of brutality and violence” as the government steps up its shelling and air strikes and rebels boost their attacks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday.

Mr Ban and Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi addressed the 193-member UN General Assembly on the revolt against Syrian president Bashir al-Assad.

The fighting has killed about 40,000 people, making it the bloodiest of Arab uprisings that have ousted entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen since early last year.

“The government has intensified its campaigns to root out opposition strongholds and has increased shelling and air strikes,” Mr Ban said. “Opposition elements also have stepped up their attacks. I am horrified and saddened and condemn the seemingly daily massacres of civilians.”

Syrian air force jets bombarded rebel targets yesterday close to the Damascus airport road and a regional airline said the violence had halted international flights. The internet and most telephone lines also were down for a second day in the worst communications outage of the conflict.

Mr Ban said with the onset of winter, up to four million people in Syria would be in need and that he expected to number of refugees – about 480,000 – to hit 700,000 by early next year. He appealed for more humanitarian aid and said he would visit refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey to assess the situation.