DAMASCUS  - More than 100 people were reported killed across Syria on Saturday, 74 of them civilians, as regime forces pressed a protest crackdown three days ahead of a deadline to cease fire and pull back.

Monitors reported the escalation in violence despite UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s latest rebuke to Damascus for stepping up its assault on dissent hubs ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.

At least 40 civilians died “in bombardment and shooting on the town of Latamna,” in Hama province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based monitoring group said civilians were killed as well in Tibet al-Imam, also in Hama, and another 16 in the neighbouring province of Homs, where Rastan town was bombed, in Idlib to the northwest, and Aleppo in north Syria.

In escalating clashes, 16 rebels and 17 members of the security forces were also killed nationwide, it said, adding 13 bodies were found in Deir Balaa district of Homs and 10 extracted from rubble in Hreitan, Aleppo province.

The Observatory said the deaths came after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched an overnight assault on Latamna and clashed with members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has warned of “alarming” casualties as the Syrian government’s year-long crackdown on dissent — which the United Nations says has killed more than 9,000 people — showed no signs of abating.

Monitors put the number of dead at more than 10,000.

At least 77 people were killed nationwide on Thursday and 35 on Friday, mostly civilians, according to Observatory figures.

On Saturday, rebels attacked a military intelligence headquarters in the second city of Aleppo, the Observatory said, and army deserters also pressed a dawn assault on Ming air base in the same province.

Fighting was also reported between troops and deserters in districts of Hama city.

“Regular forces launched an assault early on Saturday on the Al-Qussur district, where they burned down the house of an activist,” said an activist on the ground, Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi.

The Local Coordination Committees group, which organises protests at a local level, on Saturday posted online videos of tanks and armoured cars deploying in Douma, just north of the capital.

Thousands of people demonstrated in Damascus on Saturday in support of the ruling Baath party on the 65th anniversary of its creation, an AFP journalist said.

The official SANA news agency reported similar demonstrations in other cities that “expressed the Syrian people, army and leadership’s steadfastness in the face of the conspiracy hatched against Syria.”

Ban said on Friday that the increased attacks by Assad’s forces on cities “violate” a UN Security Council statement demanding an end to hostilities by Tuesday’s truce deadline.

He indicated that he believes Assad’s government is using the deadline to pull troops and heavy weapons away from cities as “an excuse” to step up the killing.

Ban “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 centres,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

“The April 10 timeline to fulfill the government’s implementation of its commitments, as endorsed by the Security Council, is not an excuse for continued killing,” Ban added.

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 withdrawn from cities.

Russia and China, which vetoed two Security Council resolutions on Syria, have signed up to the new demands.

But Syria said on Friday that the number of what it calls “terrorist acts” has risen since the deal was reached with Annan.

“The terrorist acts committed by the armed terrorist groups in Syria have increased during the last few days, particularly after reaching an understanding on Kofi Annan’s plan,” it said in a letter to Ban.

At the same time, Damascus lashed out at the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, accusing her of turning a blind eye to “terrorism” funded from abroad.

Damascus has also demanded a written commitment that the opposition will not seek to exploit the troop withdrawal to make territorial gains.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said the increased attacks by government forces on Syrian cities “violate” the UN Security Council’s demand for an end to hostilities.

The UN secretary general strongly condemned new violence and indicated he believes 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 “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 centres,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

“The April 10 timeline to fulfill the government’s implementation of its commitments, as endorsed by the Security Council, is not an excuse for continued killing,” Ban added.

“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, he said, according to Nesirky.

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 neighbouring countries are alarming,” he said.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu informed Ban about a new surge in refugee arrivals in a telephone conversation on Thursday night, the UN spokesman said.

“The Syrian authorities remain fully accountable for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These must stop at once,” the UN leader said.

Ban “demands that the government of Syria immediately and unconditionally cease all military actions against the Syrian people,” the spokesman added.

“He reiterates that it is the responsibility of the Syrian authorities to now deliver on what they have promised, and to implement, fully and unconditionally, all the commitments under the six-point plan of joint special envoy Annan,” the spokesman said.