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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon today urged the international community to take stronger action against Syria, expressing frustration with a lack of unity among UN members about how best to deal with President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising.
Mr. Ban has tried for months through diplomatic means to force the regime force the regime to abandon its crackdown and acquiesce to protesters' demands for reform, securing a pledge from Mr. Assad when the two last spoke on Aug. 17 to halt the violence. But dozens more protesters have since been killed in clashes with Syrian security forces, and Ban said it was "too late" for Assad to correct his course, the Associated Press reports.
Ban, speaking from the sidelines of a meeting in New Zealand today, declined to discuss the possibility of a military intervention, however.
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime is engaged in a nationwide manhunt for a high-level official who may have defected from the Assad regime last week – the attorney general of Hama, one of the centers of rebellion. In a recent YouTube video, Adnan Bakkour said he defected in protest because security forces had killed hundreds of civilians during a siege on his city last month, Voice of America reports.
If the defection is legitimate, it would be the highest-level defection from the regime yet. But the Syrian regime claims that Mr. Bakkour was kidnapped by "terrorists" and coerced into making the videos that falsely announced his defection.
Security forces have detained activists across the country in hopes of extracting information on the whereabouts of Bakkour. Activists say he has now fled the country.
In yet another recording posted online, Bakkour said his convoy was attacked on Friday in Idlib province, near the Turkish border (see map), the Associated Press reports. Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for the activist network the Local Coordination Committees, said that Bakkour is now "safely out of the country," but that security forces were still searching for him around Hama and Idlib.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Idlibi also said that soldiers have been defecting in Damascus, a critical support base for Assad. Unverified reports from activists state that the defected soldiers traded fire at the Damascus military airport with the military still loyal to Assad.
The regime permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Damascus Central Prison on Monday – the first time since the start of the uprising in March that the ICRC has been allowed to visit one of the countries many detention facilities, The New York Times reports.
However, the prison they visited is one for criminals, not political prisoners, and thus not likely to hold any of the 10,000-plus Syrians who have been jailed for their role in the country's uprising. Activists told the Times that most of the people detained in the last few months are likely in secret detention facilities that will remain off limits to the ICRC.
A Syrian lawyer told Reuters that the Red Cross needed to have access to those unofficial jails and detention centers to understand the extent of the country's human rights violations.
“The Damascus central prison is mostly for criminal, not political cases. The bulk of the ugliest torture takes place in the cellars of secret police branches spearheading the repression, such as Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence,” he said.
Amid Assad's continued defiance to international calls for reform and an end to violence, Lebanese politician Samir Geagea said on Monday that the Assad regime was approaching "collapse" as international condemnation and the revolution "snowballed." Mr. Geagea leads the Lebanese Forces party, which is part of the country's anti-Syria March 14 political bloc.
Geagea said even if Assad bowed to long-standing Western demands to sever Syria's strategic alliance with Iran, it would not help to save him. “An arrangement of the internal situation and a shift in alliances can no longer help President Assad,” he said.
“The situation is in favor of the Syrian revolution. The Syrian regime has lost its internal and external cornerstone … The Syrian revolution has scored points at the international level. The circumstances in the region and the regime’s standing on Iran’s side have helped the revolution in Syria … That’s why matters are [working] in favor of the rebels,” Geagea said.