UN panel: Syria, Iraq edging into regional war

GENEVA (AP) -- A U.N. commission on Syrian war crimes is sounding the alarm that the entire region is on the brink of war.

In its latest report Tuesday to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the commission said "a regional war in the Middle East draws ever closer" as Sunni insurgents advance across Iraq to control areas bridging the Iraq-Syria frontier - drawing in Washington and Tehran.

That, plus the fourth year of civil war in Syria, threatens to topple the region, according to the four-member commission. The panel is investigating war crimes and other abuses in Syria, where President Bashar Assad was re-elected to another seven-year term in a highly contentious vote held amid fighting that has killed more than 160,000 people.

"The conflict in Syria has reached a tipping point, threatening the entire region," said the head of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, Brazilian diplomat and scholar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, in a speech to the 47-nation rights council in Geneva.

Violence has reached unprecedented levels, people commit crimes with no fear of being punished and "impunity has made its home" in the warring country, Pinheiro said.

"Syrians live in a world where decisions about where to go to the mosque for prayers, to the market for food and to send their children to school have become decisions about life and death," he said.

In its report, the commission said Iraq's turmoil also will have "violent repercussions" in Syria, most dangerously the rise of sectarian violence as "a direct consequence of the dominance of extremist groups."

Noting that children are constantly in harm's way, the commission found "a marked increase in the number of attacks on functioning schools resulting in the killing and maiming of children." Pinheiro said that trend could be linked to attempts to control families and fighters on one side or another of the conflict.

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