China said Wednesday the situation in Syria had reached a "critical juncture" and expressed its "great concern", as a UN official said the country was now in a full-scale civil war.
World powers are groping to find a way to end the bloodshed in Syria with the toll growing daily despite a ceasefire that should have gone into effect from April 12, and there are reports of children being used as human shields.
China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, has repeatedly opposed foreign intervention in Syria, and has urged both sides in the conflict to implement UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.
"China expresses its great concern over the development of the situation in Syria. We believe the situation in Syria is at a critical juncture," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told journalists.
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"We hope parties in Syria can do everything they can to protect civilians."
Activists say 14,100 people have been killed in the 15-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said this week he believed Syria was now in a civil war.
Annan has been trying to implement on the ground his six-point peace plan, which calls for both sides to lay down their arms immediately and participate in a Syrian-led political transition.
But there has been increasing violence as Assad has refused to step aside and instead unleashed his heavily armed forces against the opposition.
Faced with the deteriorating situation in Syria, Russia has put forward a proposal to hold an international conference on how to resolve the crisis that would include Iran -- a close ally of Damascus.
Liu said China was "positive" about the proposal, but the United States, France and Britain have expressed strong reservations over the possible inclusion of Iran in the talks.