Syria is committing crimes against humanity as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting rebels, Amnesty International has said in a report.
The London-based rights group called for an international response on Wednesday after claiming it had fresh evidence that victims, including children, had been dragged from their homes and shot dead by soldiers, who in some cases then set the remains on fire.
"This disturbing new evidence of an organised pattern of grave abuses highlights the pressing need for decisive international action," said Amnesty's Donatella Rovera on release of the 70-page report entitled "Deadly Reprisals".
The group interviewed people in 23 towns and villages across Syria and concluded that government forces and militias were guilty of "grave human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes".
Reporting on the revolt which broke out in March last year, Amnesty described how soldiers and shabiha militias burned down homes and properties and fired indiscriminately into residential areas, killing and injuring civilian bystanders.
The report also accused the regime of routinely torturing those who were arrested, including the sick and elderly.
In the report, Amnesty called on the United Nations Security Council to refer the case to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to impose an arms embargo on Syria.
Meanwhile, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said he would call on the UN Security Council to make United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria mandatory.
France would propose that Annan's six-point plan be enforced under the UN's Chapter Seven provision, he said on Wednesday, describing the conflict in Syria as a "civil war".
Fabius said he hoped Russia would agree to using Chapter Seven, a measures which can authorise the use of force, and he said that a no-fly zone was another option under discussion.
"We propose making the implementation of the Annan plan compulsory," he told a news conference. "We need to pass to the next speed at the Security Council and place the Annan plan under Chapter Seven - that is to say make it compulsory under pain of very heavy sanctions."
France would propose toughening sanctions on Syria at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, Fabius said.
He said the international community would prepare a list of second-ranking military officials who would be pursued by
international justice, alongside President Bashar al-Assad and his immediate entourage.
"They must understand that the only future is in resisting oppression. The time for taking a decision has arrived. They
have to jump ship," Fabius said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told a news conference during a brief visit to Iran that Moscow was supplying "anti-air defence systems" to Damascus in a deal that "in no way violates international laws".
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed her call on Russia to end arms deliveries to Syria, saying that the violence-torn nation was "spiralling toward civil war".
Clinton said she supported co-operation with Russia, but stood firm on her call for an end to arms deliveries, a day after she charged that Moscow was sending "attack helicopters" to Syria that could "escalate the conflict".
Asked in Tehran about the helicopter allegation, Lavrov only said that Moscow was giving Damascus "conventional weapons" related to air defence and asserted that the deal complied with international law.
Gennady Gatilov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, told reporters last month that Moscow believed "it would be wrong to leave the Syrian government without the means for self-defence".
Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister, said at the same news conference with Lavrov that Tehran and Moscow were "very close" on the Syria issue.
|Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general, speaks to Al Jazeera about Syria's military capabilities
Western and Arab nations, he said, "are sending weapons to Syria and forces to Syria, and are not allowing the reforms promised by the Syrian president to be applied".
Reports in Iran allege that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US are arming Syria's rebels - termed "terrorists" by Damascus - while US officials claim Iran is giving arms and military advisers to Syria's government.
Some observers fear the conflict, which Herve Ladsous, the UN's chief peacekeeper says now resembles a civil war, could turn into a struggle between forces helped by outside nations.
On Wednesday, Syria's foreign ministry responded to the remarks made by Ladsous, saying that they represented an unrealistic description of the conflict.
"Talk of civil war in Syria is not consistent with reality ... What is happening in Syria is a war against armed groups that choose terrorism," state news agency SANA quoted a ministry statement as saying.
But one Western diplomat told the AFP news agency, on condition of anonymity, that "there is a real risk of [the situation in Syria] sliding into a proxy war as certain states support the regime or 'the opposition".
"The conflict in Syria certainly appears to be getting more brutal - and not just on one side," the diplomat warned.