Middle East

Syria faces new ceasefire call as Homs journalist freed

The UN human rights commissioner has demanded an urgent ceasefire in Syria, accusing the military of atrocities.

Syria's representative stormed out of the Human Rights Council session after the comments by Navi Pillay.

Security forces have intensified their attacks on opposition strongholds in the past few days, leaving scores more people dead and injured, activists say.

In Washington, Hillary Clinton has said that President Bashar al-Assad fits the definition of a war criminal.

The US Secretary of State told a Senate hearing that an argument could be made for declaring the Syrian leader a war criminal.

She added that such an action would complicate the chances of finding a solution to the violence - and tended to make it harder to persuade a leader to stand down.

Meanwhile, a British journalist injured in the besieged city of Homs has left Syria and reached Lebanon.

Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy was injured in the attack that killed fellow journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik last week.

There are reports that French journalist Edith Bouvier, wounded in the same bombardment, may also have been evacuated. However, her situation remains unclear.

'Odious crimes'

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) met in urgent session in Geneva amid the deepening humanitarian crisis. It discussed a confidential report delivered by a UN panel of experts that lists Syrian army officers and government officials who could be investigated for crimes against humanity.

Image caption Scores of people have died in the past week alone, activists say

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has urged the 47 nations in the council to be prepared to submit a complaint against Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

"The task of the council is to express the disgust of the entire world at the odious crimes that the Syrian state is committing against its people," he said.

Ms Pillay said she had also received reports that "massive campaigns of arrests" by Syrian troops against rebels had deprived many civilians of food, water and medical supplies.

But the meeting is unlikely to bring about any change from the government in Damascus which is currently fighting for its survival, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from neighbouring Lebanon.

It is more likely to put pressure on countries such as Russia and China, which have opposed any international action against Syria, he adds.

Syrian representative Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, who walked out, accused countries of "inciting sectarianism and providing arms".

"Unjust and unilateral sanctions imposed by some countries on the Syrian people are preventing access to medicines, to fuel in all forms as well as electricity, and are also impeding bank transfers to buy these materials," he said.

The European Union imposed a tougher round on sanctions on Syria on Monday, including travel and banking restrictions.

Attacks intensifying

Reports on Tuesday said Homs had come under some of its heaviest bombardment yet, with the government sending in units of an elite armoured division into rebel-held districts.

Forces were also sent into several towns in northern Syria for the first time on Monday, several of them in the area around Idlib.

As many as 125 people died across Syria on Monday, many of them in a single incident at a checkpoint in Homs, said the Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists.

On Tuesday, the group said another 60 people had died, most of them in Homs and Hama, but with victims also in the areas around Aleppo, Idlib and Deir Ezzor.

However, it is difficult to independently verify the reports as media access across the country is tightly restricted.

News of Mr Conroy's rescue came on Tuesday morning. Syrian opposition sources said the 47-year-old was smuggled out of Baba Amr on Monday and taken through the Syrian countryside before crossing the border into Lebanon during the night.

There has been no word on what has happened to the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.