UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is strongly criticizing Syria’s President Bashar Assad for using terrorists as a justification to kill civilians and shell villages.

The UN chief told a group of journalists Thursday that the Syrian crisis didn’t start because of terrorism — but he said because Assad continued to kill his own people, terrorist elements are now taking advantage of the turmoil.

“He could have stopped this violence a long time ago and this political dialogue could have commenced a long time ago,” Ban said. “But he has been continuously killing… That’s why people, out of frustration, out of anger, they have been fighting against their own government.”

The secretary-general strongly welcomed opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib’s proposal for political talks and expressed hope that Syrian authorities would accept it.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.