U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killing of a Dutch priest in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, calling his shooting death an "inhumane act of violence."
The 75-year-old Jesuit priest, Frans Van Der Lugt, had lived in Syria for decades and had refused to leave Homs despite more than a year of intense fighting there.
Ban said he "heroically stood by the people of Syria" through growing difficulties in the country.
The U.N. chief's spokesman said the killing highlights the urgent need to protect civilians, and Ban demanded that all sides in Syria ensure that people of every religion and ethnicity are protected.
Witnesses said an unknown gunman entered Van Der Lugt's monastery Monday, took him to the garden and shot him in the head. They said he appeared to have been directly targeted.
Van Der Lugt was a well-known figure in Homs, a rebel-held city that has been under a government siege for more than a year. The priest was respected by many for his efforts to get a blockade lifted so that aid could enter the city.
A Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi said Van Der Lugt showed great courage in remaining loyal to the Syrian people despite an extremely risky situation.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki said the United States is "saddened" by the news of Van Der Lugt's death. She said the priest worked to mitigate the immense suffering in Homs. The spokeswoman also deplored continued threats against Christians in Syria.
Some Islamist militants among Syria's rebels have targeted Christians, forcing more than 450,000 of them to flee their homes. Before the civil war, Syria had an estimated Christian population of 2.5 million.