Thousands flee Syria in exodus, millions more need aid

Fri Nov 9, 2012 5:03pm EST
 
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By Jonathon Burch and Rania El Gamal

ANKARA/DOHA (Reuters) - Thousands of Syrians fled their country on Friday in one of the biggest refugee exoduses of the 20-month civil war after rebels seized a border town, and the United Nations warned that millions more still in Syria will need help as winter sets in.

In Qatar, the main opposition group outside Syria elected a new leader. However, it will start talks on Saturday with other factions, including representatives of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces, on forming a wider body that hopes to gain international recognition as a government-in-waiting.

The U.N. said 11,000 refugees had fled in 24 hours, mostly to Turkey. The influx caused alarm in Ankara, which is worried about its ability to cope with such large numbers and has pushed hard, so far without success, for a buffer zone to be set up inside Syria where refugees could be housed.

Rebels overran the frontier town of Ras al-Ain late on Thursday, continuing a drive that has already seen them push Assad's troops from much of the north and seize several crossing points, a rebel commander and opposition sources said.

"The crossing is important because it opens another line to Turkey, where we can send the wounded and get supplies," said Khaled al-Walid, a commander in the Raqqa rebel division.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that compiles opposition activist reports, said at least 20 members of the Syrian security forces were killed when rebel fighters attacked a security headquarters in Ras al-Ain.

Thousands of residents poured out of the Arab and Kurd town, in the northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, 600 km (375 miles) from Damascus.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition body outside the country, elected veteran activist George Sabra as its new head in Doha on Friday.   Continued...

 
Syrians jump over barbed wire as they flee from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain to the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, November 9, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer