Some 2,350 Syrians have fled across the border to Turkey from the region of Idlib in the last 24 hours, a Turkish official said on Thursday, more than double the highest number seen in any previous one-day period.
The refugees all crossed the border close to the Turkish village of Bukulmez, the official said. Villagers on the Turkish side of the border said they could hear the sounds of heavy fighting throughout the day.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the crisis in Syria is getting worse and claiming more lives every day even though President Bashar Assad's government insists it is withdrawing troops ahead of a UN deadline to end the violence.
The UN chief appealed to Assad "to show vision and leadership" and keep his pledge to pull troops and heavy weapons out of cities and towns by April 10, and he urged the opposition to be ready to stop all violence if the Syrian government meets the deadline.
"Cities, towns and villages have been turned into war zones. The sources of violence are proliferating," Ban told the UN General Assembly. "The human rights of the Syrian people continue to be violated…Humanitarian needs are growing dramatically."
His comments came as activists reported that Syrian troops attacked the Damascus suburb of Douma, an assault they said shows that Assad is intensifying violence in the days before the April 10 deadline. His crackdown on the yearlong uprising has left at least 9,000 people dead, according to the UN.
Earlier Thursday, a UN team arrived in Damascus to negotiate the possible deployment of UN monitors for any cease-fire between Syrian troops and rebel forces.
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."
Annan and Ban spoke to the General 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 raised the possibility of "further steps" if Syria doesn't implement the six-point peace plan outlined by Annan, which Assad agreed to on March 25.
"All points of the plan are crucial, but one is most urgent: the need for a cessation of violence," Annan told diplomats from the 193 UN member states.
"Clearly, the violence is still continuing. Alarming levels of casualties and other abuses continue to be reported daily. Military operations in civilian population centers have not stopped."
Ban said despite the Syrian government's acceptance of Annan's plan, "the violence and assaults in civilian areas have not stopped."
"The situation on the ground continues to deteriorate," he said.
The secretary-general has been speaking out against the violence in Syria for many months, but his remarks Thursday were especially strong and highly critical of the Assad government for unleashing attacks in the first place in response to "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."
Annan said all opposition parties his team has talked to "are committed to call for cessation of violence once the Syrian government has demonstrably fulfilled its commitments regarding use of heavy weapons and troop withdrawals."
In planning for a possible cease-fire, a team led by Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood arrived Thursday in Damascus to begin discussing with the Syrian authorities "the eventual deployment of this UN supervision and monitoring mission," Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
He said the UN is looking for a team of 200 to 250 soldiers to monitor a cease-fire.
The deployment of UN monitors would first have to be authorized by the 15-nation Security Council.
While a halt to violence is a beginning, Annan stressed the importance of moving forward quickly on a Syrian-led political process including all parties to restore peace and "meet the aspirations of the Syrian people."
Annan has courted support for his six-point peace plan at meetings with leaders in Moscow and Beijing and now plans to visit Tehran on April 11, Fawzi said.
Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions condemning Assad's regime for the crackdown on protesters, and have ruled out any mention of possible sanctions against Syria.
Diplomats said Thursday's presidential statement was watered down at the insistence of Russia and China from a "demand" to a "call" on Syria to implement the April 10 deadline.
They also insisted that the word "verifiably" be changed to "visibly," the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were private.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he was not optimistic about a peace plan for Syria and is ready to push for stronger UN action if the deadline is not met. Assad "is deceiving us" when he promises to abide by the peace plan, Juppe said.
"If we manage to get 200 observers (and the other measures in the peace plan) in place, things will change dramatically," he told reporters in Paris. "If we don't manage to get this by April 12, we have to go back to the UN Security Council."
Syria's key ally Russia, has grown increasingly impatient with Assad, criticizing him for being slow at reforms and urging him to take the first step in implementing Annan's plan.
But Russia has vowed to block any UN resolution that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya, where NATO action helped oust longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported troop withdrawal from some areas in Daraa in the south, Idlib in the north, and Zabadani on the outskirts of Damascus. The opposition has called into question the reported pullback.
"What kind of a withdrawal is the regime talking about?" Waldi Buni, a Syrian opposition politician, said.
"Today there are military operations across Syria and more reinforcements on the ground," he added.
At least eight Syrian soldiers were killed in fierce fighting with army defectors in the district of Deir Balaba in the volatile province of Homs, reported the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Seven civilians were killed Thursday in government shelling of the province, added the Britain-based group.
Activist near Damascus, meanwhile, told dpa that military troops had attacked the city's suburban area of Douma, in what was described as the worst assault on the area since an anti-government uprising started in March 2011.
"The regime is now focusing on Douma because they believe a number of the opposition Syrian Free Army are hiding inside the area and are planning for attacks inside the capital," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The observatory said troops had clashed with army defectors in the northern towns of Hraytan and Anadan near Syria's third largest city of Aleppo.
Three people were killed in the fighting, it added.
News from Syria is hard to verify as the government bars most foreign media from restive areas.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started, according to the UN.
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