Syrian Refugee Flow Escalates Sharply

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GENEVA -- Eleven thousand Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in the last 24 hours -- 9,000 of them into Turkey alone -- because of the civil war, United Nations refugee agency officials said on Friday, warning that violence in Syria and the humanitarian crisis were escalating.

The latest surge of refugees, which also included 1,000 Syrians reaching Lebanon and 1,000 into Jordan, took the number who have registered with the United Nations to more than 408,000, said Panos Moumtzis, the refugee agency official who is coordinating the response. The true total of those fleeing the conflict is much higher because many refugees have had not registered, Mr. Moumtzis said.

The majority of registered refugees have sought haven in Turkey, which borders northern Syria and is an enclave for the rebels fighting to topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said it had counted at least 8,000 Syrians entering Turkey overnight.

Among those who arrived in Turkey early Friday through a crossing in Hatay's Reyhanli township, were 26 Syrian Army defectors, including 2 generals and 11 colonels, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency of Turkey reported.

The surge in refugees fleeing the conflict came as agencies of the United Nations and other groups met donor governments in Geneva to report on the crisis and appealed for a greater financial support.

"There is more violence, more humanitarian suffering, more displacement and more losses," said Radhouane Nouicer, the refugee agency's Damascus-based coordinator.

The United Nations estimates that more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across Syria -- including 1.2 million displaced by the conflict -- were conservative, he said.

The United States will provide $34 million in additional aid to Syrians affected by conflict, bringing the total provided by the United States to $165 million, the American diplomatic mission in Geneva said in an announcement distributed at the donor meeting.

Groups that track the violence reported widespread attacks on Friday. A car bomb exploded in front of city hall in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, killing and wounding a number of people, the Local Coordination Committees, a collection of activist organizations across Syria, said. The group and another opposition organization said there were a number of other attacks attributed to the government forces, including attacks by warplanes, on the southern districts of the capital and a number of other suburbs.

In eastern Syria near the city of Deir al-Zour, another insurgency battleground, activists said fighters of Free Syrian Army, the main rebel fighting group, were locked in major combat with government forces, particularly in the al-Kouria area.

"Today there was a massacre in al-Kouria, in the suburbs, because the Free Syrian Army is besieging the location of the artillery which is shelling the surrounding villages," said Omar Abu Layla, a Syrian activist in Deir al-Zour, reached through Skype. He added that warplanes were overhead.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported rebels and government forces fought in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, while the towns of Zamalka and Sabka were shelled. More than 20 men from Mr. Assad's forces were killed and wounded when a fighter from the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group that Western officials say has links to Al Qaeda, blew up a military checkpoint near the Damascus suburb of Ein Tarma. At least 17 people were killed when the town of al-Kurieh was shelled, according to antigovernment activists.

The Syrian Observatory also said that many civilians fled the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkey border after fierce fighting between government forces and rebels. Those leaving joined an outflow of displaced people that is estimated to have reached about 20,000 from that area alone.

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Hatay, Turkey; Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon; and Christine Hauser from New York.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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