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General Assembly condemns Assad's use of heavy weapons

The UN General Assembly has voted 133-12 to condemn the use of heavy weapons by forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad while criticizing Security Council inaction. Objectors to the resolution included Russia and China.

Two children walk past a tank said to have been captured by rebels near Aleppo

Syrien Aleppo August 2012

The Saudi-drafted resolution, which also drew 31 abstentions, strongly condemns "the continued, widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities and pro-government militias."

The Assembly also demanded that Syrian authorities "strictly observe" obligations under international law not to use, transfer or produce chemical and biological weapons and condemned "all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, including terrorist groups."

Assembly members also backed the demand by outgoing Syrian conflict mediator Kofi Annan that the "first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities." Annan's resignation, announced Thursday, becomes effective at the end of August.

Members also deplored the UN Security Council's "failure to agree on measures" to make the Syrian government carry out UN demands to end almost 18 months of fighting. Three times, Russia and China have used their vetoes on draft resolutions within the council.

Ban speaking during the General Assembly session at the UN

Ban urged the UN "not to fail the test" as it did in 1994 and 1995

The resolution also called for "an inclusive Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system."

Friday's overwhelming Assembly vote is not binding on veto powers within the 15-member council but it can carry moral weight.

Syria a 'proxy war,' says Ban

The Assembly's declaration followed a sharp warning by UN chief Ban Ki-moon that the conflict between Assad's forces and rebels across Syria had become a "proxy war."

Dire predictions made when the conflict started in March 2011 had now "come to pass," Ban said, adding that the Security Council had become "paralyzed" by divisions.

Referring to Rwanda and Srebrenica, the scenes of massacres in 1994 and 1995, Ban said he did not want "today's United Nations to fail the test."

Responding to the resolution, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said it would have "no impact whatsoever. It is a piece of theater."

Aleppo endangered, warns UN official

The head of UN peacekeeping efforts Herve Ladsous added his voice to former UN chief Kofi Annan by warning that the "main battle" for Syria's commercial hub of Aleppo, with a population of 2.5 million, appeared imminent.

Close-up of Ladsous

Sounding the alarm over Aleppo - UN chief peacekeeper Ladsous

Ladsous said that the "focus is now on Aleppo, where there has been a considerable build-up of military means."

He was referring to deployments by Assad's forces around Aleppo and rebels who have held out for days under bombardment in opposition zones, mainly in Aleppo's eastern and southwestern districts.

Gigantic outflow feared

The UN's refugee commissioner Antonio Guterres added to UN alarm by warning of a "gigantic outflow" of people if the fighting in Syria escalates further.

"We all have seen crisis of this nature in different parts of the world. Let's hope that this doesn't evolve into the kind of gigantic outflows we have witnessed in Afghanistan or Iraq," said Guteres in Geneva.

The UN estimates that 1.5 million people have already been displaced within Syria by fighting that began 17 months ago.

Manoeuvres off Syria

Russian news agencies, meanwhile, say three Russian naval ships carrying marines will dock in the next few days at Tartus, a Syrian port leased by Moscow.

Two days ago two US media outlets, NBC and CNN, said President Barack Obama had signed a covert document, allowing the CIA and other agencies to provide clandestine support for rebels in Syria.

ipj/ng (Reuters, AFP, dpa)