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Up to 700,000 Syrian refugees by yearend, says UN

Source : Agencies | 28 Sep 2012

The UN refugee agency warned Thursday there could be as many as 700,000 Syrian refugees in countries neighboring the war-torn nation by the end of the year, up from 300,000 now.

“There may be up to 700,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries by the end of the year,” Panos Moumtzsis, the UNHCR’s chief coordinator for Syrian refugees, told reporters in Geneva.

“We are running out of time,” he added.

The UNHCR warning came a day after more than 305 people were killed across Syria, making it the bloodiest day of the 18-month revolt.

There was no letup in the violence on Thursday, with troops loyal to President Bashar Assad pummeling districts in east Aleppo following an overnight rebel attack on an army checkpoint outside the northern metropolis.

A report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army was shelling of the Maysar and Hanano districts in eastern Aleppo, while the Local Coordination Committees said heavy artillery was being used to bombard Sakhur district, also in the east.

Faced with the soaring need for aid, humanitarian agencies upped their call for funds Thursday to $487.9 million (379.2 million euros) to sustain their operations until the end of the year.

At present, only $141.5 million in funding is available, just 29 percent of the overall request, Moumtzsis said, stressing the urgency of the appeal in the face of an “overwhelming increase” in the number of refugees fleeing the 18-month conflict.

The UN humanitarian affairs chief, Valerie Amos, has said that 2.5 million people affected directly or indirectly by the war need aid.

Some 1.2 million people have been displaced inside Syria and another 300,000 have sought refuge in neighboring countries, such as Turkey and Lebanon, exerting tremendous pressure on them.

In March, the UNHCR had registered 41,500 Syrian refugees and said it expected the number to rise to 100,000 by the end of this year, but that figure was surpassed in July.

The approach of winter made Thursday’s appeal even more important, Moumtzsis said, adding that winterized tents, clothing, blankets and heaters were needed to prepare for the “very harsh” winter months.

'Bloodiest day'

A report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said non-combatants, as usual, bore the brunt of Wednesday's violence, accounting for 199 of the dead.

A total of 14 people were killed when twin bombs rocked the headquarters of the armed forces general staff in the heart of Damascus in one of the most spectacular attacks of the uprising, the Observatory said.

An Islamist rebel group said its men carried out the attack, and five of its fighters, including a suicide bomber, died during the assault. Its claim was impossible to verify.

“This is the highest toll in a single day since March 2011.

 And this is only counting those whose names have been documented. If we count the unidentified bodies, the figure will be much higher,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone.

The previous highest death toll of the uprising was on July 19, when 302 people were killed, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in violence since the outbreak of the revolt against the rule of Assad in March last year, according to the Observatory’s figures.
All senior commanders and other officers escaped injury in Wednesday’s attack on army headquarters, the military said.

State television showed video footage of a white van exploding beside the military headquarters, and a second blast inside the compound. It said the bombings came 10 minutes apart, and that 14 people were wounded.

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Military Council in Damascus, Ahmed Al-Khatib, said the attack was staged with two car bombs.

Syria’s military said the “terrorist explosions around and inside the army headquarters were caused by two car bombs driven by suicide attackers.”

It was the biggest attack on the security apparatus since a July 18 suicide bombing against a heavily guarded headquarters in Damascus killed four top regime officials, including defense minister General Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat.

'Bloodthirsty dictator'

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier urged action from the “paralyzed” UN Security Counci, saying: “The atrocities mount while the Security Council remains paralyzed and I would urge that we try once again to find a path forward.”

Her appeal came amid mounting attempts by Western governments to press Russia and China to ease their opposition to UN action against the Assad regime.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the blood of children killed in the conflict had become “a terrible stain on the reputation of this United Nations.”

Arab ministers weighed calls for intervention, meeting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on the General Assembly sidelines.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki told AFP that his country could support an Arab peacekeeping force, and called Assad “a bloodthirsty dictator.”

“We have really pushed for a peaceful solution, but if it is necessary, it must be an Arab peacekeeping force, yes,” he said.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, called on Tuesday for an Arab intervention force. However Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-Arabi told reporters he did not believe the emir intended it to be a “fighting force.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — Assad’s closest ally — told reporters that Tehran was working to set up a contact group on the conflict.

He refused to say which states had been approached to join.
Aid groups in Syria need better access to civilians trapped by the fighting, European Union humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said.

“With winter approaching, more populations are at risk,” Georgieva said after meeting with officials from NGOs and the main countries providing aid to Syria on the sidelines of the General Assembly.