U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Friday that the bloody violence in Syria is threatening to break the country apart as the opposition chief pleaded for weapons.
“The military solution in Syria is leading to the dissolution of Syria,” the U.N. chief said in Geneva, asking: “What atrocity must occur to finally stir the world to act?”
With the brutal, sectarian-tinged conflict between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels poised to enter its third year next month, Ban called for a renewed drive to halt the strife.
“For two years now, we have seen suppression of people's aspiration for change, the flight of ever-greater numbers of people from their homes, and the daily escalation of killing, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.
“The United Nations and our humanitarian partners are doing all we can to provide assistance. But in Syria and anywhere else, we must never use humanitarianism to avoid the tougher choices,” he insisted.
Ban said it was down to all sides in Syria to come to the negotiating table, but urged the international community not to lose focus on the conflict there.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed Syria and other urgent issues by telephone Friday, the Kremlin said, noting that the call was initiated by Washington.
The Obama administration on Thursday announced it was giving an additional $60 million in assistance to the country's political opposition and said that it would, for the first time, provide non-lethal aid directly to rebels battling to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
But the opposition said what they needed is more weapons rather than the food supplies and bandages.
Gen. Salim Idris, chief of staff of the Syrian opposition's Supreme Military Council, said the modest package of aid to rebels - consisting of an undetermined amount of food rations and medical supplies - will not help them win against Assad's forces who have superior air power.
“We don't want food and drink and we don't want bandages. When we're wounded, we want to die. The only thing we want is weapons,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“We need anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to stop Bashar Assad's criminal, murderous regime from annihilating the Syrian people,” he said. “The whole world knows what we need and yet they watch as the Syrian people are slaughtered.”
Syria's main rebel units, known together as the Free Syrian Army, regrouped in December under a unified Western-backed rebel command called the Supreme Military Council, following promises of more military assistance once a central council was in place.
But the international community remains reluctant to send lethal weapons, fearing they may fall into the hands of extremists who have made inroads in some places in Syria.