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Syria at 'unprecedented levels of horror' says UN envoy

Free Syrian Army fighters and residents attempt to identify bodies found along a river, at a school used as a field hospital in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr January 29, 2013. At least 65 people, apparently shot in the head, were found dead with their hands bound in a district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Tuesday, activists said. Opposition activists posted a video of a man filming at least 51 muddied male bodies alongside what they said was the Queiq River in the rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo.

Zain Karam/REUTERS

The Syria conflict has reached "unprecedented levels of horror," peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Tuesday, calling on the UN Security Council to act to end the carnage.

The UN-Arab League envoy told the 15-member council that President Bashar al-Assad's legitimacy has been "irreparably damaged" by the 22-month-old conflict but that he could still hang on to power, diplomats in a closed briefing told AFP.

"Unprecedented levels of horror have been reached. The tragedy does not have an end," Mr. Brahimi said amid reports of a shocking new massacre in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

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"I'm sorry if I sound like an old broken record," he added. "The country is breaking up before everyone's eyes. Only the international community can help and first and foremost the Security Council."

The government has become more "repressive," the veteran conflict troubleshooter was quoted as saying. But he added that Mr. Assad's forces and the opposition were committing "equally atrocious crimes."

Mr. Brahimi told the council he was very worried about countries around Syria which face a growing risk of "contamination" from the conflict, which the UN says has left more than 60,000 dead.

"Most regional parties have aligned with one of the parties in Syria," Brahimi said. "There might be implications if the crisis continues spiraling. The refugee flow is becoming a matter of controversy in these countries."

"Syria is becoming a playground for competing forces," he declared.

"None of the neighbors is immune to the fallout consequences of the conflict. The region is facing the risk of contamination," Mr. Brahimi told envoys adding that the regional divisions were another reason for UN action.

His pleas for help come on the heels of news that the bodies of at least 65 people, some with hands tied behind their backs, were found in Syria's northern city of Aleppo Tuesday.

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Also Tuesday, a bomb wounded former legislator and once governor of the central province of Hama, Abdul-Razzak Qtini, as he was in his car, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a neighbor of Qtini said. The neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said Qtini is receiving treatment in a Damascus hospital.

The bodies, almost all of men in their 20s and 30s, were discovered in the contested neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr, the director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman said. Intense clashes between rebels and government troops have raged in the district since opposition forces launched an offensive on Aleppo in July.

Abdul-Rahman said the identities of the dead were unknown, and it was not clear who was behind the killings or when they occurred. A government official told The Associated Press in Damascus that the dead were residents of Bustan al-Qasr who were kidnapped and later killed.

Syrian state TV said the men were killed by members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-linked group that the Obama administration has labeled as a terrorist organization. It said the men were killed after they demanded members of the group to leave their areas.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the number of bodies found at 80. It blamed government forces for the killing.

The Security Council has been paralyzed on Syria for more than a year.

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Russia and China have vetoed three western-drafted resolutions which would have just threatened sanctions. Brahimi has meanwhile struggled to bring Russia and the United States behind a plan for political transition talks.

Russia accuses the west of seeking simple regime change and insisted that the international community cannot force Assad to stand down. The United States and its allies have backed the opposition stance that there can be no talks with Assad.

The United Nations has received promises of major donations at this week's $1.5 billion aid conference for millions of Syrians affected by nearly two years of conflict, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.

Wednesday's pledging conference in Kuwait will seek $1 billion of aid for Syria's neighbours sheltering 700,000 registered refugees, and another $500 million to bankroll humanitarian work for 4 million Syrians inside their country.

So far, the United Nations has received pledges covering just 18 percent of the target, unveiled last month as the scale of Syria's humanitarian crisis escalated sharply, and which aims to fund operations for the first half of this year.

"We have every reason to be optimistic that there will a very good presence and new pledges that will be coming up at this conference," said Robert Watkins, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, which has seen the biggest influx of refugees from the Syrian bloodshed.

"We have received preliminary pledges from a number of important donor countries that they will be making announcements of large donations."

U.S. President Barack Obama announced an additional $155 million, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian aid to the Syrian crisis to some $365 million, the State Department said.

Watkins said the fact that the conference was being held in the Gulf state of Kuwait could encourage other wealthy Gulf Arab states, who have led regional opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, to support the international aid effort.

Many Gulf states have sent assistance, but aid workers in the region say their efforts have been haphazard and rarely coordinated with other aid agencies, hampering their ability to plan a sustained relief programme.

"It's important that we widen the range of donors that provide assistance," Watkins said.

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