The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution endorsing an Arab League plan that urges Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

The initial count showed that the resolution, which is similar to one Russia and China vetoed in the Security Council on 4 February, received 137 votes in favour, 12 against and 17 abstentions.

Three delegations said their votes failed to register on the electronic board.

Russia and China were among those that voted against the resolution.

Calls for end to bloodshed

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Syrian authorities to stop killing civilians and said potential crimes against humanity were taking place in the country.

Mr Ban said he had read of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's plan to hold a referendum that could lead to multi-party elections within 90 days, but said the priority now had to be halting the bloodshed in an uprising against Assad's rule.

"What is important at this time is that first Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people, must stop violence. This violence should stop from all sides, whether by national security forces or by opposition forces," he said.

Mr Ban, who opened an international conference on fighting the illicit drugs trade from Afghanistan, said he would meet the foreign ministers of Russia and France in Vienna today to discuss stalled UN Security Council action on Syria.

He called it "regrettable" that the council could not agree so far on a resolution, and said: "Now that is behind us. We have to look to the future."

Mr Ban said thousands of people had died, 25,000 had fled Syria, an estimated 70,000 had been displaced within the country and the numbers were rising by the day.

"Lack of agreement in the (UN) Security Council does not give the government licence to continue its assault on its own people. The longer we debate, the more people will die," he said.

Activists reported that at least 14 people were killed by Syrian forces in the town of Kfar Nubouzeh, near Hama.

Footage on YouTube showed at least eight bodies lying on the floor of what looked like a hospital.

President Assad's forces launched an attack on the city of Hama and its surroundings on Tuesday.