Syrian opposition groups reported fresh violence in several areas of Syria on Friday, less than a week before a U.N.-backed cease-fire is to take effect.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government troops battled rebel forces in several suburbs of Damascus. It said three members of the military were killed. Clashes also erupted in the central region of Homs after armed groups loyal to the government opened fire on a group of women, killing two and wounding four.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that Syria's conflict was escalating and attacks by government forces on civilian areas show no signs of slowing, despite assurances that Damascus has begun withdrawing its troops from major cities.
Ban told the General Assembly that Syrian "cities, towns and villages had been turned into war zones." He urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "to show leadership and vision" and keep his pledge to end violence by April 10.
President Assad agreed to U.N.-backed peace plan on March 25, but international peace envoy Kofi Annan said in a video from Geneva that the Syrian government has made little progress on ending its year-long crackdown on dissent.
"We must silence the tanks, helicopters, mortars, guns and all other forms of violence too - sexual abuse, torture, executions, abductions, destruction of homes, forced displacements and other abuses, including on children," said Annan.
Earlier Thursday, the U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China, passed a "presidential statement" calling on Syria to take urgent and concrete steps to stop the violence by the cease-fire deadline.
But Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Ja'afari, said the threat to the implementation of Annan's peace plan comes not from his government, but from countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, who he accused of financing and arming insurgents.
The Syrian government has promised to stop all military action by April 10. Under the terms of the Security Council statement passed Thursday, the opposition is supposed to lay down its arms within 48 hours after the government fulfills its promise.
Meanwhile, a small technical team arrived in Damascus Thursday to begin laying the groundwork for a potential U.N. monitoring mission. The U.N. is eventually looking to send a team of 200-250 unarmed observers to monitor a cease-fire in Syria.
The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Assad began 13 months ago.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.