Syria war envelops region in "staggering" crisis: aid agency

Mon Jan 14, 2013 9:25am EST
 
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By Oliver Holmes

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's civil war is unleashing a "staggering humanitarian crisis" on the Middle East as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee violence including gang rape, an international aid agency said on Monday.

Opposition activists said an air strike on rebel-held territory southwest of Damascus killed 20 people, including women and children, adding to the more than 60,000 people estimated to have been killed in the 21-month-old conflict.

Over 600,000 Syrians have fled abroad - many to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan - as violence has spread and international efforts to find a political solution have sagged.

Refugees interviewed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) cited sexual violence as a major reason they fled the country, the New York-based organization said in a 23-page report on the crisis published on Monday.

Gang rapes often happened in front of family members and women had been kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed, it said.

"After decades of working in war and disaster zones, the IRC knows that women and girls suffer physical and sexual violence in every conflict. Syria is no exception," the group added.

Rebels and government forces have both been accused of human rights abuses during the conflict, which began with peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

The unrest turned violent after government forces fired on demonstrators and has since become a full-scale civil war.   Continued...

 
A boy, standing next to his father, cries as they wait to receive humanitarian aid in the countryside of Idlib January 13, 2013. Picture taken January 13, 2013. REUTERS/Giath Taha