- Associated Press - Thursday, February 16, 2012

BEIRUT U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian regime of committing “almost certain” crimes against humanity Thursday, as activists reported fresh violence and the arrest of several prominent dissidents, including a U.S.-born blogger.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna, Mr. Ban demanded the Syrian regime stop using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and President Bashar Assad’s opponents.

“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately,” Mr. Ban told reporters in Vienna. “Hospitals used as torture centers. Children as young as 10 years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity.”

At the United Nations in New York, the General Assembly approved a resolution Thursday backing an Arab League plan that calls for Mr. Assad to step down and strongly condemns human rights violations by his regime.

The vote was 137-12 with 17 abstentions.

Russia and China, which vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council, voted against the resolution.

There are no vetoes in the General Assembly and while resolutions are not legally binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues.

Syrian activists said government forces attacked Daraa on Thursday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city where the uprising against Mr. Assad erupted 11 months ago. They also reported intense clashes between army defectors and government troops in the central province of Hama.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops “committed a new massacre” near the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour, killing 19 people - 11 of them from the same family. The report was impossible to confirm.

The push into Daraa, located near the Jordanian border some 80 miles south of Damascus, followed sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama, and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent.

Also Thursday, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), an umbrella group of activists, reported the arrest of a several activists, including Razan Ghazzawi, a U.S.-born blogger and press freedom campaigner.

Ms. Ghazzawi, who was born in Miami, was arrested early in the uprising and charged with spreading false information, but she was released after about two weeks.

The LCC said security forces also arrested leading human rights activist Mazen Darwish and others during a raid on their Damascus office.

The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

The LCC said dozens of people were killed throughout the country Thursday.

The Observatory said security forces killed at least one civilian in Daraa, and that clashes between defectors and government troops there left at least three regime soldiers dead.

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