UN special envoy Kofi Annan's office said Tuesday that a real ceasefire is imperative in Syria as the death toll mounts nearly three months after a truce he brokered failed to take effect.
Annan spokesman Ahmed Fawzi addressed reporters after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned that foreign arms deliveries to both Syria's government and opposition are fuelling a conflict that is now in its sixteenth month.
While Pillay did not name countries, Russia and Iran are key suppliers to Assad's government, while Gulf states, notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have given weapons to the increasingly well-armed opposition.
Pillay said that government and opposition alike were carrying out "serious" new rights violations, including attacks on hospitals.
Rights monitors say more than 16,500 people – mostly civilians – have been killed in the violence that has rocked Syria since March last year.
Human Rights Watch in a report published Tuesday accused the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad of holding tens of thousands of detainees in what it termed a "torture archipelago."
The rights group documented 27 detention facilities across Syria it said were used to hold people swept up in the government's brutal crackdown on the popular uprising against Assad's regime.
In addition to the 27 facilities – operated by four main intelligence agencies commonly referred to as the "mukhabarat" – HRW said detainees were being held in stadiums, military bases, schools and hospitals.
The report quoted a former intelligence officer as describing a wide range of torture methods, including hanging prisoners by their hands from the ceiling and putting prisoners in coffins and threatening to kill them.
Fawzi said that an agreement reached at a conference of the major powers in Geneva on Saturday was "quite an accomplishment" and marked a "shift" in the positions of longtime Damascus allies Beijing and Moscow.
However, both the state media and the exiled opposition branded the deal on a political transition for Syria a failure, the opposition because at Russian and Chinese insistence, it contained no explicit call for Assad to step down.
"Many forces have joined hands here on Saturday... don't underestimate the shift, particularly from Russian and China," Fawzi said.
"Let's wait until the dust settles on this agreement and I think everyone will see that it was quite an accomplishment that was achieved."
He said the agreement in principle on a political transition was among the achievements, but added that a complete halt to the violence was vital first.
"It's imperative that we get a ceasefire," Fawzi said, noting nearly 4,500 had been killed since the ceasefire deadline passed.