U.N. chief calls on Security Council to take action on Syria

By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the U.N. Security Council to take "urgent action" on Syria amid daily atrocities and rights abuses, warning the war-torn country would otherwise slip deeper into chaos. In his monthly report to the council on Syria aid access, seen by Reuters on Wednesday, Ban did not specify action, but his former aid chief Valerie Amos appealed in April for an arms embargo and sanctions for violations of humanitarian law. "I also ask the council to take urgent action in the face of the continuing atrocities and human rights abuses taking place in Syria on a daily basis," Ban wrote in the June 23 report. "Lack of action will throw Syria deeper into chaos and deprive the country of a peaceful and prosperous future." The council failed last year to refer the four-year war in Syria to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Syrian ally Russia, backed by China, vetoed the move and three other resolutions threatening President Bashar al-Assad's government with sanctions. Ban said some 12.2 million people in Syria need help, including more than 5 million children. About 7.6 million are internally displaced and more than 4 million have fled to neighboring countries and North Africa. U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura will continue consultations with parties to the conflict into July and Ban described the goal of finding a political solution to the conflict as "ambitious, but we must not lose sight of it." A Syrian government crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in 2011 led to an armed uprising. Islamic State militants have taken advantage of the chaos to declare a caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Ban said some 422,000 people in Syria remained besieged - 228,000 by Islamic State, 167,500 by government forces and 26,500 by armed groups. "Islamic State continued to violate international humanitarian law and commit human rights abuses," Ban said. He said on May 5 the United Nations received reports that Islamic State crucified and killed a 15-year-old boy after accusing him of stealing money and weapons from a vehicle, while a man was reportedly beheaded for theft on May 14. Ban said he was also concerned the Syrian government "continues to indiscriminately drop barrel bombs on defenseless civilians in populated neighborhoods" and "by the indiscriminate and relentless use of mortars and shelling of residential neighborhoods by non-State armed groups." (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)