NEW YORK // The UN's high commissioner for human rights accused Syria of escalating human rights violations including the arrest of 18,000 political prisoners.
In response the Syrian ambassador lambasted Navi Pillay for ignoring suicide bombings claimed by Al Qaeda in Syria, which he blamed on Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
In an address to the General Assembly late last night, Ms Pillay said that though her office could no longer count the dead beyond 5,400, she was certain the death told is rising every day from the Syrian government's clampdown.
"Tens of thousands, including children have been arrested, with more than 18,000 reportedly still arbitrarily held in detention," she said. "Thousands more are reported missing."
Ms Pillay said 25,000 Syrians have fled the country and more than 70,000 are internally displaced.
"I am particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs," she said, where more than 350 people have been killed from government
shelling in the past week. At least three makeshift medical clinics have been hit, hospitals have been used as torture facilities, including against doctors, and ambulances have been fired upon, she said. The injured have avoided public hospitals for fear of being tortured, she said, instead being treated at underground facilities in farms, apartments and private homes.
"Due to heavy shelling, residents have been effectively trapped in areas under attack," Ms Pillay said, causing a "deplorable"
humanitarian situation in Homs. The UN's human rights chief blamed the "complicity of the authorities at the highest level" for the
brutality, including a "shoot-to kill policy" against protesters and she renewed her call that they be tried at the
International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Speaking immediately afterward, Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian ambassador to the UN, criticised Ms Pillay for not mentioning a spate of suicide bombings in Syria claimed by Al Qaeda and the toll international sanctions are having on the Syrian population.
"The High Commissioner spoke of the tragic conditions the Syrian people are living in," Mr Ja'afari said. "This is true. However she
neglected to say what are the genuine reasons ... it is as if she had not heard of these sanctions."
He said he had hoped Ms Pillay would mention Al Qaeda's involvement, given that the UN has condemned the terrorist group. Armed groups are daily assassinating academics and intellectuals to undermine the Syrian state and create chaos, so that the international community could intervene in his country, he said.
Mr Ja'afari said five corpses of Al Qaeda militants were found in Homs, one from the UAE, one from Saudi Arabia and
three from Libya. He accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of backing the militants.
"Doha, the capital of Qatar, is playing host to armed opposition groups that refuse national dialogue … and are fundamentally
responsible for shedding Syrian blood," he said. "I call on all those who host and support armed terrorist groups to cease forthwith."
Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, a Qatari who is president of the General Assembly, rebuked Mr Ja'afari. "In defence of freedom of speech a wide latitude is allowed to delegates, however a line must be drawn to keep the dignity and decorum of this body," he
The two had engaged in a bitter procedural battle before the General Assembly session began. Mr Ja'afari cited a rule that the Assembly should hear from the Human Rights Council only once a year. He was overruled in a procedural vote.
Mr Ja'afari also criticised an Arab League resolution on Sunday for "openly committing material and political support to the Syrian
opposition". which he accused of engaging in terrorist attacks.
"Whoever stands before this resolution are now encouraging terrorism in Syria."
A call in the league's resolution for an armed UN peacekeeping force in place of an unarmed, joint UN-Arab League monitoring mission, was not supported by Russia and Britain on Monday.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, told reporters in South Africa: "I don't see the way forward in Syria as being western boots on the ground in any form, including in any peacekeeping form. I think they would need to come from other countries rather than western nations."
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said he supported an unarmed, joint observer mission but said peace would have to be in
place in Syria before peacekeepers could be deployed.