U.N. chief condemns Daraya massacre; France says buffer zones in Syria ‘possible’


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was shocked by reports of a massacre in a town close to Syria’s capital and condemned it as “an appalling and brutal crime” that should be independently investigated immediately, his spokesman said on Monday.

Syrian opposition activists accused President Bashar al-Assad’s army on Sunday of massacring hundreds of people in the town of Daraya, which government forces recaptured from rebels.

“The secretary-general is certainly shocked by those reports and he strongly condemns this appalling and brutal crime,” Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “This needs to be investigated immediately, in an independent and impartial fashion.

“It underscores ... wherever there are atrocities, whoever is responsible needs to be held accountable and it underscores again the lack of protection for civilians that there is in Syria,” he said.

He said the U.N. Office for the Commissioner for Human Rights was trying to gather information on the Daraya incident.

In Daraya, southwest of Damascus, some 320 bodies, including women and children, were found in houses and basements, according to activists who said most had been killed “execution-style” by troops in house-to-house raids.

Syria’s official state news agency blamed the killings on the rebels.

“Our heroic armed forces cleansed Daraya from remnants of armed terrorist groups who committed crimes against the sons of the town,” the agency reported.

Possible buffer zones in Syria

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande confirmed on Monday that his country was working with its partners on the possible establishment of buffer zones in Syria, an idea floated by Turkey.

Hollande said that France will recognize a provisional Syrian government as soon as it has been formed while urging rebels to establish one as soon as possible.

Syria’s opposition remains badly fragmented, and it is far from clear whether such a provisional government could be formed anytime soon.

But his statement, believed to be the first of its kind, appeared aimed to give an impetus to the creation of such a government.

Syria’s opposition has been plagued by divisions and infighting since the start of the uprising last year, and a formation of a transitional government is fraught with difficulties.

Abdelbaset Sieda, the leader of main umbrella opposition group the Syrian National Council, said recently the group was making plans and consultations for a transitional government. However, several other opposition groups are known to be making similar plans, including a new opposition alliance headed by veteran opposition figure Haitham Maleh.

He also warned that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be a legitimate reason for a foreign intervention.

“We with our allies remain very watchful to prevent the use of chemical weapons by the regime, which would be for the international community a legitimate cause for direct intervention,” Hollande told a meeting of French diplomats.

The United Nations estimates that more than 18,000 people have been killed in the 17-month conflict. It began as peaceful pro-democracy protests and has grown into a civil war, pitting a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against the ruling Assad family, who are members of the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.