Syria's Assad says stops police operations

Updated: 2011-08-18 13:08


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UNITED NATIONS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that military and police operations against pro-democracy protesters had stopped, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

In a phone call with Assad on Wednesday, Ban "expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria, including in the Al Ramel district of Latakia, home to several thousands of Palestinian refugees," the United Nations said in a statement.

"The Secretary-General emphasized that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped," the statement added.

Residents of the besieged port city of Latakia said on Wednesday that Syrian forces raided houses in a Sunni district, arresting hundreds of people and taking them to a stadium after a four-day tank assault to crush protests against al-Assad.

Assad's forces attacked al-Raml, a seafront area named after a Palestinian refugee camp built in the 1950s, on the weekend as part of a fierce campaign to crush a five-month-old uprising.

Latakia is of particular significance to Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite community. The 45-year-old president, a self-declared champion of the Palestinian cause, comes from a village to the southeast, where his father is buried. The Assad family, along with friends, control the city's port and its finances.

Syria has expelled most independent media since the unrest began, making it difficult to verify reports from the country.

Humanitarian mission

The UN statement said Ban repeated his calls for an independent investigation into all reported killings and acts of violence, and for free access by the media.

It added the UN chief called on Damascus to cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"The Secretary-General also urged president Assad to engage in a credible and peaceful process of reform towards comprehensive change," the statement said.

Assad enumerated the reforms he will undertake in the next few months, including revision of the Constitution and the holding of parliamentary elections, the statement said.

"The Secretary-General emphasized the need for reforms to be implemented swiftly without further military intervention," it said

Ban said a UN humanitarian assessment team, which the Syrian Government had agreed to receive, should be given independent and unhindered access to all areas affected by violence. Assad said the team would have access to different sites in Syria, according to the statement.

The UN human rights chief is expected to suggest that the Security Council refer Syria's crackdown on protesters to the International Criminal Court, envoys said on Wednesday.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay will address the 15-nation council in a closed-door session on Syria on Thursday, along with UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

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