World Bulletin / News Desk
Syrian army bombardments killed 21 people in a Damascus suburb on Friday in an intensifying civil war that the U.N. refugee agency said had prompted more than 200,000 people to flee the country.
In an accelerating exodus, more than 3,500 Syrians crossed into Turkey in the past 24 hours, Turkish officials said, one of the highest daily totals since initially peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011.
"In Jordan, a record 2,200 people crossed the border overnight and were received at Zaatari camp in the north," Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva.
Assad's forceful response to unrest inspired by Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere has spawned an armed insurrection and plunged Syria into a civil war in which over 18,000 people have been killed, according to a U.N. estimate.
There was no let-up in the violence on Friday, the Muslim holy day that has often been a focus for anti-Assad protests.
The Syrian army pounded the Damascus suburb of Daraya, where the 21 deaths reported by opposition activists brought the toll from a three-day-old military assault to at least 70.
Assad's forces are trying to regain control of the capital's outlying districts such as Daraya, a Sunni Muslim working class township that sprawls among farmlands where insurgents often take refuge after attacking government troops.
Troops fired multiple rocket launchers and artillery at Daraya, where rebels were still holed up, activists said.
"There are lots of bodies trapped in destroyed buildings and civilians are trying to flee towards Damascus," an activist in Daraya, who gave his name as Abu Kinan, told Reuters by phone.
Syrian authorities restrict media access, making it hard to verify accounts by both sides in the conflict.
Fighting was also taking place in several lower middle class Sunni suburbs around Damascus, including Qatana, Sbeineh, Qadam, Assali and Hajar al-Aswad, opposition activists said.
Assad's elite forces, mostly drawn from his minority Alawite sect and increasingly used to keep control of Damascus, are based in hilltop compounds in the capital and surrounding areas.
About 220 people were killed in Syria on Thursday, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Death tolls on that scale have become commonplace since the killing of four of Assad's senior aides in a July 18 bombing prompted a rebel offensive that led to fierce military counter-attacks in Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo.
Fighting raged on in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and commercial powerhouse, where combat jets and helicopter gunships struck rebel-held districts overnight, residents said.
One school used as a base by rebels was bombed twice during the night. Abu Ahmed, a resident living next to the school, said:
"The rebels stay in abandoned police stations and hospitals, but the army knows exactly where they are."
On a frontline in the southern Saif al-Dawla area, rebels destroyed an armoured personnel carrier and the army fired tank shells and mortar bombs, but made no attempt to advance.
The body of a civilian named Mohammed Tabraji, 25, lay in the street. His friend Mohammed al-Arabi said they had been looking for a place to buy bread when a sniper shot Tabraji.
The incessant fighting has sent rising numbers of civilians fleeing to neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
Turkey alone hosts more than 78,000 Syrian refugees, according to its Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate, a sharp rise on the 44,000 registered there at the end of July.
Ankara, saying it will not be able to accommodate more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, has suggested that the United Nations set up a safe haven inside Syria to staunch the outflow.
The chances of gaining a U.N. Security Council mandate for such a safe haven, which would require military protection, are close to zero, given the rejection by veto-wielding powers Russia and China of any outside intervention in Syria.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on France 24 television on Thursday that an "international coalition" of Western nations and allies could consider setting up a limited no-fly zone over part of Syria without such a mandate.
"The scenario mentioned by (U.S. Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton of a particular zone where there could be a banned area is something that needs to be studied," said Le Drian, the first senior French official to air the possibility of action by an "international coalition," rather than the United Nations.
France chairs a meeting of U.N. Security Council foreign ministers in New York next week which it has said will focus on humanitarian solutions for Syrians caught up in the conflict.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had invited Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to attend the conference, given the number of refugees and fears of the conflict spreading.
At least three people, including a Sunni commander, were killed on Friday in a fifth day of Sunni-Alawite fighting in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, where the bloodshed in Syria has aggravated old sectarian tensions.
A Lebanese security source said the Tripoli violence, in which 16 people have been killed this week, was "alarming and dangerous .. It is very likely that it will escalate this time".
Several ports are in rebel hands and fighting has made travelling by road perilous.
Turkey's relations with Tehran have already been strained by stark differences over Syria. Ankara upped the ante last week, saying it backs the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against Houthi militants supported by Iran.
According to the source,Pro-Houthi brigade has disintegrated Ad Dali, brigade commander Abdullah Dabaan has fled.
Abu Mohamad al-Golani, leader of the Nusra front said residents of the northwestern city of Idlib would be treated well by his fighters and other Islamic factions that captured it on Saturday.
"They pushed from the Hajar Aswad area," one witness said, adding that the violence was ongoing. Yarmouk has been caught between government forces and Syrian insurgent groups including al Qaeda's Nusra Front.
"The borders have been closed for traffic temporarily.. It's a precautionary move.. due to the violent events on the other side," the interior ministry said.
"Now is the time for the international community to insist on a better deal," he said in a televised statement in English.
The air strike hit Zintan, whose forces have sided with Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni's government against the rival administration set up by forces who took over Tripoli in the summer during factional fighting in Libya.
With talks to cinch a deal on the horizon according to Iran, France says there is not enough to go ahead for a deal just yet
Abdollahian and Ban spoke on the sidelines of an international conference in Kuwait aimed at addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, IRNA reported.
United Nations experts reported to the U.N. Security Council, thousands of people from some 100 countries in Syria and Iraq, there were also 6,500 in Afghanistan and hundreds more in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia.
The operation by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim states is aimed at stopping the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh winning control of the country and at reinstating Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement, nuclear talks to merit staying until Wednesday.
The negotiators ended talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne in the early hours of Wednesday and said they would reconvene later in the day, with Iran and Russia expressing optimism that an initial agreement was within reach.
The Mazraq camp for displaced people near Haradh was struck on Monday, humanitarian workers said. Some 200 people were wounded, dozens of them seriously, the International Organization for Migration said.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Tuesday pledged $500 million in humanitarian aid to help ease the crisis in Syria.