AAZAZ: The United Nations has called an end to its observer mission in Syria, as activists reported more bloodletting in an attack on civilians in the main battleground of Aleppo.
The UN decision was announced Thursday as the international community piled the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime to end 17 months of fighting that is now threatening to entangle neighbouring Lebanon.
"The conditions to continue UNSMIS were not fulfilled," France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said after a New York meeting on the conflict, referring to the mission whose mandate is due to end at midnight Sunday.
Major powers have long been at odds on how to end the increasingly brutal battle for Syria, and the withdrawal of the observers follows the collapse of a peace plan drawn up by outgoing peace envoy Kofi Annan.
On the ground, activists reported that Syrian forces shelled a group of people queuing outside a bakery in the Qadi Askar district of eastern Aleppo, the city at the centre of the battle between the regime and armed rebels.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people were killed in the district, and that at least 99 had died in violence across the country on Thursday, most of them civilians.
On Wednesday, around 40 people, including women and children, were killed in a massive air strike on civilians in the rebel bastion of Aazaz, just north of Aleppo, according to rights groups and residents.
Human Rights Watch urged the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria after the air strike on Aazaz. "Yet again, Syrian government forces attacked with callous disregard for civilian life," it said.
Mohammed Nur, director of the now closed Aazaz media centre, said 40 people were killed - including 30 from one extended family - and 150 wounded.
"Bashar al-Assad doesn't care where the bombs land and in any case, his pilots are not that accurate," he said.
With the violence showing no signs of abating, Russia, which has with China blocked three UN resolutions on the crisis, called for world powers to make a joint appeal for the regime and rebels to end the fighting.
Russia has called a meeting in New York on Friday of UN ambassadors from the so-called Geneva action group on Syria.
It was not immediately clear whether the Western powers -- still angry at Russia and China for their vetoes of the UN resolutions -- would attend the New York meeting.
The United States said Thursday it held "serious" talks with Russia about Syria after months of disagreement over the bloodshed and renewed its call for a political transition.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also urged a visiting Syrian envoy to implement a ceasefire and accept international mediation.
But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius renewed calls for Assad to go.
"France's position is clear: we consider Assad to be butchering his own people. He must leave, and the sooner he goes the better," Fabius said at a refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan, before he flew on to Lebanon.
Fabius told AFP he had information that Assad's regime would be rocked by more "spectacular" defections soon.
The Damascus regime has already been hit by the defections of Assad's prime minister Riad Hijab and general Manaf Tlass, his childhood friend and the son of a close aide of Assad's father Hafez, who ruled Syria with an iron fist.
Fabius said the regime was in a state of "decomposition", adding: "We would like this to happen as fast as possible."
Earlier Thursday, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation suspended Syria, with its chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu saying: "This (Muslim) world can no longer accept a regime that massacres its people using planes, tanks and heavy artillery."
The United States and the opposition Syrian National Council welcomed the move, but it was rejected by Syria's staunch ally Iran and by Damascus, which charged it was the victim of a US-masterminded "conspiracy".
One million risking 'destitution'
Assad, whose regime has also been hit by a bomb attack that killed his top security chiefs, insists he is fighting a "terrorist" plot aided by rival Sunni Muslim powers including Saudi Arabia.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who visited Damascus to push for greater aid access, warned that the situation was worsening, with the number of people in need possibly as high as 2.5 million and one million at risk of "destitution".
Syrian Foreign Minster Walid Muallem accused Arab states of failing to give even one dollar to help the humanitarian situation in his country, sending in arms for the rebels instead.
On Wednesday, a damning report by the UN Commission of Inquiry said government forces and their militia allies committed crimes against humanity including murder and torture and other "gross violations of international law".
It said they were responsible for a massacre in the central city of Houla in May when 108 civilians, including 49 children, were killed in a grisly attack that Assad himself had said was the work of "monsters".
Rebel fighters were however not spared in the probe, which found them guilty of war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture.
The conflict erupted in March 2011 when regime forces cracked down on peaceful protests but has spiralled into an armed rebellion that the Observatory says has killed 23,000, while the UN puts the toll at 17,000.
Stoking fears that the fighting could spread, dozens of Syrians were kidnapped in Lebanon on Wednesday -- many by an armed Shiite Muslim clan -- in retaliation for events across the border.
"This brings us back to the days of the painful war, a page that Lebanese citizens have been trying to turn," Prime Minister Najib Mikati said, recalling the dark days of the civil war and the kidnapping of Western hostages.
Saudi Arabia - the regional Sunni powerhouse that is opposed to Assad's Alawite-led regime - along with at least two other energy-rich Gulf states ordered their nationals to leave Lebanon immediately because of threats.
Lebanon has in the past had to confront cross-border shootings, shelling by the Syrian army, tit-for-tat kidnappings and sectarian clashes as the violence in Syria escalates.
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