UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sharply criticised the Syrian government for its latest attacks on civilians, saying that increased attacks by government forces on Syrian cities "violate" the UN Security Council's demand for an end to hostilities.
Ban's press office said in a statement on Friday that the UN secretary general believes that President Bashar al-Assad is using an April 10 deadline to pull troops and heavy weapons away from cities as "an excuse" to step up killing.
"[Ban] strongly condemns the latest escalation of violence," the statement said.
"He deplores the assault by the Syrian authorities against innocent civilians, including women and children, despite the commitments by the government of Syria to cease all use of heavy weapons in population centers."
"The 10 April timeline to fulfil the government's implementation of its [ceasefire and troop withdrawal] commitments, as endorsed by the Security Council, is not an excuse for continued killing."
"Such actions violate the consensus position of the Security Council" which backed the peace plan drawn up by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and the April 10 deadline he agreed with Assad.
"The Syrian authorities remain fully accountable for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law," Ban's statement said. "These must stop at once."
"The secretary-general demands that the Government of Syria immediately and unconditionally cease all military actions against the Syrian people," it said.
US satellite photos
In another development, the US released satellite images on Friday that it said showed Syria has artillery poised to hit residential areas and has moved some forces from one town to another despite calls for a withdrawal.
Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, posted the images on Facebook in what seemed an effort to pressure Bashar al-Assad to pull back forces as called for in the peace plan.
"This is not the reduction in offensive Syrian government security operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed," Ford said on Facebook.
Ford, who left Damascus when the US embassy was closed in February, said the images showed the withdrawal of tanks from Dael in Deraa province as well as from Taftanaz, a village east of Idlib city in Idlib province.
However, Ford said "the Syrian government simply moved some armoured vehicles out of Taftanaz to the nearby town of Zirdana".
Other images carried arrow markings and a caption that said the Syrian government had "kept artillery units near residential areas" such as in Homs and Zabadani "where they could again fire upon them."
No changes on the ground
The Security Council passed one statement backing Annan's peace plan and on Thursday agreed a second "presidential statement" formally endorsing the April 10 limit for Syrian troops and big guns to be pulled out of cities.
Russia and China, which blocked two resolutions on Syria, have signed up to the new demands.
Syrian rights activists said however that since the new statement was released, at least 35 people were killed in government attacks on Friday on top of 77 killed on Thursday.
Ban said he was "gravely concerned" at the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria. "The latest reports of growing numbers of refugee arrivals in neighboring countries are alarming," he said.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, informed Ban about a new surge in refugee arrivals in a telephone conversation on Thursday night.
"The Syrian authorities remain fully accountable for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These must stop at once," Ban said.