BEIRUT - At least 70 people were killed in intense fighting in Syria over the past 24 hours, activists said on Wednesday, despite the imminent arrival of a UN team to discuss a possible mission to monitor a ceasefire set for next week.Western powers were seeking UN Security Council endorsement of envoy Kofi Annan's deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad for an April 10 withdrawal of military forces, to be followed within 48 hours by a ceasefire by rebel forces."Let me say that from the US point of view, and I think the point of view of many member states, what we have seen since April 1 is not encouraging," US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Tuesday.If Assad uses the next seven days to intensify the violence, Rice said, the Security Council would need to respond urgently and seriously.Human rights group Amnesty International said it had counted 232 deaths since Syria accepted Annan's proposals on March 27. "The evidence shows that Assad's supposed agreement to the Annan plan is having no impact on the ground," it said.
Nevertheless, an advance party from the UN peacekeeping department was due in Syria shortly to discuss deploying a team of around 250 observers to monitor a ceasefire. It is headed by Norwegian General Robert Mood, Annan's spokesman said. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor which collates reports from inside Syria, said 58 civilians and 18 soldiers were killed on Tuesday.The Syrian state news agency SANA said "several terrorists" and three security men were killed in Taftanaz. "Armed terrorist groups ... were attacking citizens, and perpetrating acts of killing, kidnapping and planting explosives," it said.Annan's peace plan is the latest international effort to end a year of bloodshed that began with peaceful protests against Assad's authoritarian rule. The envoy presented it to the Syrian leader on March 10 and got a positive reply 16 days later.