World Bulletin / News Desk
The Syrian refugee crisis may worsen if there is no international reaction in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolu said on Wednesday.
"If the same trend continues... and there is no international reaction to it, we are scared neighbouring countries face much bigger numbers of refugees," he said at a news conference in Geneva.
More than two million Syrians have now fled their country, the UNHCR said Tuesday, as top US officials pressed a robust bid to secure Congress' support for military strikes against the Damascus regime.
The UN refugee agency's grim statistics come as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that Western military action against him risked igniting a regional war and bringing chaos across the Middle East.
The UNHCR, in a statement released in Geneva, lamented that the number of Syrian refugees had increased nearly ten-fold from a year ago.
"Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs," the statement said, pointing out that on September 3, 2012, it had registered just 230,671 Syrian refugees.
In addition to the two million Syrians living as refugees, some 4.25 million people have been displaced within the devastated country since the conflict began in March 2011, according to UN figures.
"Syria has become the great tragedy of this century," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement, describing the situation in the country as "a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparallelled in recent history."
Correspondents and witnesses have reported an even greater exodus of Syrians into neighbouring countries since US President Barack Obama warned last week he was ready to launch military strikes on Assad's regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Obama shocked Washington and the world on Saturday when he decided to seek support for military action in Syria from Congress, putting his plans on hold and effectively giving more time for civilians to leave the country.
As part of White House strategy to persuade sceptical lawmakers to back what Obama said would be "limited" and "narrow" action in Syria, the US secretaries of state and defence were to go before a Senate panel on Tuesday.
It was unclear who else may be persuaded to take part in Western action, but NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday he was personally convinced the chemical attack had taken place and that Assad's regime was responsible.
Rasmussen called for a response that would "send a very clear message" against the use of chemical weapons, but said any military action should be "very short, sharp (and) tailored".
Efforts to win UN backing for military action have been stymied by Russia, which said Monday it remained totally unconvinced that the regime carried out the attack.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Western military action would sink joint efforts by Washington and Moscow to organise a peace conference in Geneva.
China, which in the past has joined Russia in blocking UN Security Council resolutions against Assad, also said it was "gravely concerned" about the prospect of "unilateral military actions" against Syria.
Fighting continued to rage in Syria meanwhile, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog saying that nearly 90 rebels were killed near Damascus in the previous 48 hours.