President of UN General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser(L), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon(C)
President of UN General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser(L), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon(C) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, May 31, 2012. Photo by AFP
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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Thursday that massacres of civilians, such as the one perpetrated in Houla last weekend in which more than 100 people were killed, could plunge Syria into a devastating civil war.

Ban cited fears raised on Tuesday by Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy for the Arab League and United Nations, that Syria may have already reached a "tipping point" following the slaughter of 108 people in Houla last Friday. The April 12 ceasefire, that forms part of Annan's 6-point plan to restore peace, has so far failed to take hold.

"The massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into catastrophic civil war - a civil war from which the country would never recover," the UN secretary-general told a conference in Istanbul.

"The more the international community knows," Ban said, "the more likely it is that we can advance on our most important goal: to help find a political solution, a solution that safeguards the lives and interests of all the Syrian people.

"Let me state plainly, however: The UN did not deploy in Syria just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents," he said. "We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, called on the world to pay heed to the desperation of families whose children are massacred in Syria.
Erdogan said these are "our children who are massacred in Hama, Homs and Houla, as much they are the children of desperate Syrian families."

He said the world should not remain silent in the face of "oppression."

Meanwhile, China on Thursday urged the world give UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria more time to work, saying there could not be instant solutions to such a complex crisis.

Syrian rebels on Wednesday gave President Bashar Assad a 48-hour deadline to comply with an international peace plan otherwise they would renew their battle to overthrow him.

The ultimatum was issued after UN observers reported the discovery of 13 bodies bound and shot in eastern Syria, adding to the world outcry over the massacre last week of 108 men, women and children.

"China believes that the situation in Syria currently is certainly very complex and serious," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing.
"But at the same time, we believe that Annan's mediation efforts have been effective and we ought to have even more faith in him and give him more support," he added.

Meanwhile, the Syrian state TV reported that the government released 500 prisoners who were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the 14-month-old revolt, two days after peace envoy Kofi Annan urged President Bashar Assad to free detainees.

"500 people involved in the events taking place in Syria, without blood on their hands, have been released," a newsflash on state TV read.