BEIRUT -- Despite an impending deadline for a United Nations-backed peace plan to end the Syrian conflict, the crisis continues to worsen, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.
Five days from the April 10 deadline for the Syrian regime to withdraw its tanks and forces from cities and towns, attacks on civilians continue, he told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
"Humanitarian needs are growing dramatically," he said. “Over 1 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance inside the country. Tens of thousands are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, which have shown exceptional hospitality."
The General Assembly meeting on Syria came the same day a U.N. peacekeeping team arrived in Damascus, the Syrian capital, to prepare for a possible observer mission to monitor the implementation of the peace plan. Activists reported that at least 61 people were killed across the country Thursday.
"Alarming levels of casualties and other abuses continue to be reported daily," said U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. "Military operations in civilian population centers have not stopped."
In a letter to Annan, Syrian President Bashar Assad's government blamed "armed groups" for continued assaults on government forces, civilians and property.
Despite the daily death toll and rhetoric, Annan told the assembly that by 6 a.m. on April 12, a full cease-fire should be in place.
But a few hours after the meeting, the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, gave his own news conference, accusing the president of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Nasser, who is from Qatar, of seeking to defame Syria.
Jaafari said Thursday's meeting was "prearranged" to allow only Nasser and the Saudi ambassador to speak, while denying the chance to other ambassadors. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have both spoken out strongly against the Assad regime and indicated they would support the opposition with weapons.
-- Times Staff
Photo: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, and the president of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Nasser, before the start of the General Assembly meeting at the U.N. on Thursday in New York. Credit: Monika Graff / Getty Images