United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that Syria's conflict is deepening and attacks on civilian areas show no sign of abating, despite the government's claim that it is withdrawing troops before an April 10 UN deadline to end the violence.
"Cities, towns and villages have been turned into war zones. The sources of violence are proliferating," Ban told the UN General Assembly on Thursday.
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"The human rights of the Syrian people continue to be violated. ... Humanitarian needs are growing dramatically."
Valerie Amos, the United Nations' under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, also told Al Jazeera that the humanitarian situation in Syria was deteriorating. The UN estimates that at least 9,000 people have died in the year-long uprising.
"We estimate around a million people need help with healthcare and access to food. Even though food is available, getting access to [it] is a problem," said Amos.
Battles raged on Friday between army deserters and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, activists said, amid calls for massive protests in support of arming the rebellion.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that fierce battles were taking place in the villages of al-Tiba, al-Qabu and Shniyeh in central Homs province.
The fighting broke out after armed groups loyal to Assad opened fire on a group of seven women, killing two and wounding four, the UK-based rights group said in a statement.
It said regime forces were attacking districts of Homs city and that the encircled town of Rastan to the north was being bombarded with mortar rounds and heavy machine-gun fire.
Syrian forces also broadened an offensive against opposition fighters in three Damascus suburbs on Friday in an apparent attempt to crush pockets of rebellion near the capital.
Troops conducted raids in the suburbs of Saqba and Douma following overnight clashes with army defectors in Saqba and the nearby suburb of Arbeen, said the SOHR.
The group said three members of the military were killed.
Tanks patrolled deserted streets in the sprawling Douma district, about 12 kilometres outside Damascus, with snipers setting up positions atop a 12-storey medical building.
'Silence the tanks'
Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy trying to end the conflict, said Syria has informed him of partial withdrawals from three locations - Idlib, Zabadani and Daraa - "but it is clear that more far-reaching action is urgently required".
"We must silence the tanks, helicopters, mortars and guns, and stop all other forms of violence too: sexual abuse, torture, executions, abductions, destruction of homes, forced displacement, and other such abuses, including on children," he said, addressing the General Assembly from Geneva by video conference.
Annan and Ban spoke to the assembly minutes after the UN Security Council called on Syria to "urgently and visibly" fulfill its pledge to halt the use of troops and weapons by April 10.
It called on the government and opposition to stop all violence within 48 hours if Syria met the pullout deadline.
The presidential statement, read out by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, whose country holds the Council’s presidency for the month of April, raised the possibility of "further steps" if Syria failed to implement the six-point Annan plan, which Assad agreed to on March 25.
The statement called on all parties, including the opposition, to stop armed violence in all forms in 48 hours after the Syrian government fully fulfills the measures.
“The Security Council requests the envoy to update the Council on the cessation of violence in accordance with the above timeline, and progress towards implementation of his six-point proposal in its entirety. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate,” it said.
Ban said the situation on the ground in Syria was continuing to deteriorate in remarks that were highly critical of the Assad government for unleashing attacks in response to what he said were "the legitimate demands of the Syrian people - the same demands that people across the Arab world have been making for more than a year now".
Calling for all parties to honour the ceasefire agreement, he said: "I urge the government and opposition commanders to issue clear instructions so that the message reaches across the country, down to the fighter and soldier at the local level.”
A UN team arrived in Damascus on Thursday to start technical preparations for the possible deployment of UN monitors for any ceasefire between Syrian troops and rebel forces.
Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the UN was looking for a team of 200 to 250 soldiers to monitor a ceasefire.
The deployment of UN monitors would first have to be authorised by the 15-nation Security Council.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies