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Originally published Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 4:35 AM

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Turkey: Syrian regime's actions equal war crimes

Syria's bombardment of its citizens should be declared a war crime and aid groups must be given greater access to the millions suffering there, Turkey's foreign minister told the World Economic Forum.

Associated Press

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Here is a look at how severe the impact of the war has been on the children of Syria... MORE

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DAVOS, Switzerland —

Syria's bombardment of its citizens should be declared a war crime and aid groups must be given greater access to the millions suffering there, Turkey's foreign minister told the World Economic Forum.

Syria has seen a rise in violence recently, including a government rocket attack Wednesday, in the two-year-old conflict the U.N. says has killed more than 60,000 people. The seemingly unstoppable carnage in Syria was one of the major topics Wednesday at the global gathering of corporate and political leaders in the Swiss resort of Davos.

"There should be a clear signal to the Syrian regime that what they have been doing, bombarding cities by airplanes, is a war crime," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, adding that he expected the U.N. Security Council to step in "to stop this bloodshed."

"People are dying in Syria ... How long will we wait? ... The silence of the international community is killing people," he added.

At other sessions, Arab officials and Middle East observers echoed a theme of exasperated dismay combined with a lack of clarity about what exactly should be done.

"What's happening in Syria goes beyond tragedy," said Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal, a former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States. "It is truly a shameful situation where the world sits by and people are being killed every day, and nobody is ready to put a stop to it."

His country is a rival of Iran, one of the main backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Faisal identified another problem, saying the Arab world "doesn't have the means to get involved... It doesn't have the air force, the navy, the army, the intelligence-gathering machinery to go and surgically stop this fighting."

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Ann Amos, meanwhile, emphasized how urgent the need was in Syria.

"The humanitarian situation in Syria is already catastrophic and it's clearly getting worse," said Amos. "What we are seeing now are the consequences of the failure of the international community to unite to resolve the crisis."

The world has been grappling with how to deal with the Syrian war ever since protests against Assad erupted in March 2011. But beyond calls and symbolic gestures such as last fall's recognition by many countries of the opposition as the legitimate government of Syria, there has been no intervention on the ground.

Russia has given Assad's embattling regime significant diplomatic cover - which has of late has been eroding - and there has been widespread reluctance in the West to arm the rebels due to concerns about the influential role of anti-Western jihadi elements in the rebellion.

In the meantime, Amos said, 4 million people in Syria "face unrelenting violence and violations of their human rights" - living in constant fear of bombing and lacking food, shelter or medical attention.

In all, she said, at least 650,000 people have fled Syria and another 2 million people are internally displaced. She said UN relief agencies, working with Syrian aid agencies, were feeding more people every month but added "we cannot keep pace with the rising number of people in acute need."

Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Program, said the organization hoped to expand beyond the 1.5 million people it was aiding in Syria but needed more resources and better access.

Davutoglu said at the very least the world community should set up humanitarian access to cities inside Syria like Homs and Hama, which aid workers have found largely unreachable so far.

"Urban areas are being bombarded indiscriminately," he said. "Even in a war, this is a criminal act."

Davutoglu said one possibility was setting up a no-fly zone but another alternative would be "a clear decision by the U.N. Security Council declaring this a war crime and taking this to international justice."

He said Turkey was housing 160,000 Syrians in 16 refugee camps and up to 70,000 others in its cities, and had spent $500 million on housing, food, education and health services.

"We don't see them as refugees but we see them as our guests," he said. "We will never close our border."

Vali Nasr, dean of the school of advanced international studies at Johns Hopkins University, warned that even if Assad fell, "more than likely the civil war will continue" in the absence of any international force to stop the violence.

He said Syria occupies a key place in international politics.

"It can have a major blowback effect in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and also touch off a much broader regional rivalry between Turkey and Iran, and Iran and Saudi Arabia," he said.

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