In one day, 11,000 flee Syria as civil war worsens

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The United Nations reported that 11,000 Syrians fled to neighboring countries Friday, the vast majority clambering for safety over the Turkish border, in one of the largest single-day torrents of refugees since the Syria conflict began. It came as mayhem and deprivations were worsening inside the country, its president more determined than ever to stay and his fractious enemies still politically paralyzed.

U.N. refugee agency officials said 9,000 of the fleeing Syrians, many of them drenched from a cold rain, went to Turkey. The flow alarmed Turkish officials and led their prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to vent at the five permanent members of the Security Council for what he called their failure to respond decisively to the crisis after nearly 20 months.

"The world cannot be left to what the five permanent members have to say," Mr. Erdogan told a conference in Indonesia. "If we leave it to the five permanent members, humanity will continue to bleed."

Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. refugee agency official coordinating the response, told reporters in Geneva, where the agency is based, that the latest surge included 1,000 Syrians who reached Lebanon and 1,000 who reached Jordan, bringing the number of registered refugees to more than 408,000 in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Agency officials said a few weeks ago that they anticipated more than 700,000 Syrian refugees to be living in these countries by year's end, straining their resources just as the cold Middle East winter intensifies.

The agency's figures do not include Syrians who have fled without registering, a number believed to be in the tens of thousands in Jordan alone.

Turkish officials said more than half the Syrians who fled into Turkey on Friday had been seeking to escape combat between insurgents and loyalist forces near Ras al-Ain, a northeast border town where fighting has raged for days.

The arrivals through the Turkish border crossing of Reyhanli in Hatay province included 26 Syrian Army defectors, with two generals and 11 colonels among them, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency of Turkey reported.

The increased exodus coincided with new signs of defiance by Syria's president, Bashar Assad, in an interview with Russia Today, a government-run news service in Russia, a steady defender of Mr. Assad. In portions of the interview that were first released Thursday, Mr. Assad said that he intended to remain in Syria and warned that any foreign invasion would be a costly catastrophe.

Mr. Assad also denied that Syrian forces had shelled targets in Turkey and accused Mr. Erdogan -- a former friend and now one of Mr. Assad's biggest critics -- of coveting Syrian territory.

"He personally thinks that he is the new sultan of the Ottomans and he can control the region as it was during the Ottoman Empire under a new umbrella," Mr. Assad said.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 2.5 million people inside Syria need humanitarian assistance, including 1.2 million displaced by the conflict. John Ging, the director of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that 4 million Syrians may need help in the country by early next year.

"It's just getting a lot worse very rapidly for the ordinary people," Mr. Ging 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 more than $165 million, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Geneva said in an announcement distributed at the donor meeting.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain, said at least 120 people had been killed nationwide.

In Doha, Qatar, the Syrian National Council, an opposition group in exile, elected a new president, George Sabra, a veteran leftist dissident and Christian and an outspoken critic of Mr. Assad who had spent more than eight years in prison for his activism. But it was unclear whether Mr. Sabra's new role would help or hinder efforts to create a more unified opposition front at a convention of Syrian opposition groups under way in Doha.

Earlier this week Mr. Sabra criticized an attempt to subsume the Syrian National Council into a larger umbrella group, an idea that has been advanced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Ms. Clinton has been increasingly exasperated with the council's dysfunction and irrelevance because its members are all exiles with little feel for the combat raging in Syria.



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