The European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday voted with majority to create safe corridors in Syria that would act as a shield for dissidents and defectors.
The parliament also urged European countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus and said it will work to give political and technical support to the Syrian opposition.
In related news, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has confirmed she will attend the first meeting of the “Friends of Syria” in Tunisia on February 24.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Syrian authorities to stop killing civilians and said potential crimes against humanity were taking place in the country.
“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old killed and abused. We see almost a certain crimes against humanity,” he told reporters after meeting Austrian President Heinz Fischer on Thursday.
Ban said he had read of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s plan to hold a referendum that could lead to multi-party elections within 90 days but said the priority now had to be halting the bloodshed in an uprising against Assad’s rule.
“What is important at this time is that first Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people, must stop violence. This violence should stop from all sides, whether by national security forces or by opposition forces,” he said.
On Thursday, Syrian armor moved on the main hubs of an 11-month uprising killing at least 22 people, monitors said, a day after President Bashar al-Assad set a vote for a new constitution.
Opposition groups rejected the newly proposed constitution and urged voters to boycott a referendum set for this month, and to step up efforts to oust Assad.
Ban, who opened an international conference on fighting the illict drugs trade from Afghanistan, said he would meet the foreign ministers of Russia and France in Vienna on Thursday to discuss stalled U.N. Security Council action on Syria.
He called it “regrettable” that the Council could not agree so far on a resolution, and said: “Now that is behind us. We have to look to the future.”
Russia, China envoys to visit Syria
The head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee is to visit Syria next week for talks with its leadership amid concern over the growing bloodshed, he announced on Thursday.
Alexei Pushkov, the head of the international affairs committee of the State Duma lower house, told the Interfax news agency that his visit was aimed at reporting back to parliament about the situation inside the country.
“Next week I will fly to Damascus to study the development of the situation on the ground,” he said.
The visit by Pushkov, a member of the ruling United Russia party and former television commentator, comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks in Damascus earlier this month with President Bashar al-Assad.
A pledge by Assad to Lavrov to halt violence was met with skepticism by the West, which is furious at Russia for blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime.
China disapproves of armed intervention or regime change in Syria, a minister said on Thursday before leaving on the first official trip to Syria since Beijing blocked a U.N. resolution calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
The U.N. chief said thousands had died, 25,000 people had fled Syria, an estimated 70,000 had been displaced within the country and the numbers were rising by the day.
“Lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government license to continue its assault on its own people. The longer we debate the more people will die.”