Syrian President Bashar Assad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that military and police operations against pro-democracy protesters had stopped, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In a phone call with Assad Wednesday, Ban "expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria, including in the Al Ramel district of Latakia, home to several thousands of Palestinian refugees," the United Nations said in a statement.

"The Secretary-General emphasized that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped," the statement added.

Residents of the besieged port city of Latakia said Wednesday that Syrian forces raided houses in a Sunni district, arresting hundreds of people and taking them to a stadium after a four-day tank assault to crush protests against Assad.

Assad's forces attacked al-Raml, a seafront area, on the weekend as part of a fierce campaign to crush a five-month-old uprising.

Syria has expelled most independent media since the unrest began, making it difficult to verify reports from the country.

The UN statement said Ban repeated his calls for an independent investigation into all reported killings and acts of violence, and for free access by the media. -- Reuters

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