Syria conflict: No military solution, says Ban Ki-moon

Amateur footage, which cannot be independently verified, shows flattened buildings, apparently in the Hajar al-Aswad suburb of Damascus

The UN secretary general has said a military solution is not the answer to the Syrian conflict, though both government and rebels seem determined to defeat each other by force.

Ban Ki-moon said it was "troubling" that no end was in sight, and called for political dialogue.

He was speaking as heavy fighting continued in the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo.

The Friends of Syria group is meeting on Thursday to discuss new sanctions.

Financial experts and diplomats are meet in the Hague to find ways to close loopholes and make existing sanctions more effective.

Iran planes list

Speaking at a news conference to mark the new session of the UN General Assembly, Mr Ban said he was deeply affected by TV images of the conflict in Syria.

"Unfortunately both sides, government and opposition forces, seem to be determined to see the end by military means," he said.

At the scene

Black and white plumes of smoke rise from Damascus all through the day. There is a frequent wail of ambulance sirens. There is now regular government shelling of some districts, mostly on the outskirts of the city, known to have a strong opposition presence.

Much of the heavy fire seems to come from Mount Qassioun, which overlooks Damascus. One aid worker told me they were now holding their meetings in the basement because of the constant bombardment.

Across the city, there are many more checkpoints including sand-bagged positions, with Syrian flags and photos of President Assad, as well as impromptu security checks on key roads.

The government has reinforced its control of large parts of Damascus after intense fighting in July reached the heart of capital. But the battles clearly are not over and there's mounting concern over the human cost as people flee their homes, and parts of some neighbourhoods lie in ruin.

"I think military means will not bring an answer. That should be resolved through political dialogue."

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi held talks with President Bashar al-Assad and other officials in Damascus.

Mr Salehi said a solution to the conflict, which the UN estimates has left at least 20,000 people dead, lay "only in Syria and within the Syrian family".

Mr Assad said that the "current battle targets resistance as a whole not only Syria", in an apparent reference to Iran and Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah.

The meeting came as the US Treasury Department said it had identified 117 Iranian aircraft that it said were carrying weapons to the Syrian government.

Planes operated by Iran Air, Mahan Air and Yas Air were making the deliveries under the cover of humanitarian shipments, a statement by the department said.

The airlines are already subject to sanctions, but correspondents say the US is listing the planes individually to put pressure on Iraq to stop them flying through its airspace.

Rebel withdrawal

On Wednesday, opposition activists said the military was attacking the south-western Damascus suburbs of Muadhamiya, Jadidat Artouz and Kanakir, Qudsaya to the north-west, and the southern districts of Qaddam, Assali, Yalda and Hajar al-Aswad.

They posted videos online which they said showed helicopter gunships firing rockets on the southern suburb of Hajar al-Aswad, as well as the bodies of some of the more than 20 people they said had been killed in the assault.

The army was destroying and setting houses on fire, they added.

State media said troops had moved into Hajar al-Aswad and clashed with an "armed terrorist group" near a cemetery, eliminating "a number of its members", and that others had been killed as streets were "cleansed".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, later said rebel fighters had announced their withdrawal from Hajar al-Aswad, Qaddam and Assali after weeks of violent clashes.

Activists also reported that the bodies of at least 20 people executed by government forces had been found in the north-eastern district of Jobar.

In Aleppo, government forces had bombarded several central areas surrounding the Old City, including Bab al-Hadid and Bab al-Nasr, and also attacked the outlying districts of Hananu and al-Bab, they added.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network, said more than 62 people had so far been killed across the country on Wednesday, including 30 in Damascus. It put the death toll on Tuesday at 160.

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Map showing camps for Syrian refugees. Total refugees: 235,368; Lebanon: 59,111; Turkey: 80,410; Jordan: 77,165; Iraq: 18,682. Source: UNHCR and Turkey, September 2012

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