UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The failure of the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution on Syria has encouraged Damascus to step up its assault on the opposition and launch an "indiscriminate attack" on Homs, the U.N. human rights chief said on Monday.
"The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have emboldened the Syrian government to launch an all-out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force," High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the U.N. General Assembly.
Russia and China on February 4 vetoed a European-Arab drafted resolution condemning the Syrian government's suppression of anti-government demonstrations and endorsing an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
Pillay's speech to the 193-nation assembly came after Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, backed by delegates from Iran and North Korea, tried unsuccessfully to block her from addressing U.N. delegations by citing procedural arguments.
Pillay's speech raised the possibility that the Syrian government, which for 11 months has been cracking down on protesters opposed to Assad, may have committed increasingly serious human rights violations.
"I am particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs," she said, noting that Assad's forces have been using tanks, mortars and artillery in the assault on the city.
"According to credible accounts, the Syrian army has shelled densely populated neighborhoods of Homs in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas," Pillay said.
It is difficult to establish how many people have died in the Syrian conflict, though the figure was more than 5,400 and was rising every day, she said.
"More than 300 people have reportedly been killed in the city (of Homs) since the start of this assault 10 days ago," Pillay said. "The majority of them were victims of the shelling."
She has urged the Security Council to refer the Syrian repression to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as it did in the case of Libya last year. But council diplomats say that veto-holders Russia and China oppose the idea.
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; editing by Christopher Wilson)