The UN says thousands of refugees from Syria crossed the border into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon overnight amid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's insistence that the conflict in his country isn't a civil war.
Panos Moumtzis, the UN refugee agency's co-ordinator for the region, told reporters Friday in Geneva that 9,000 Syrians fled to Turkey, while 1,000 went into Jordan and 1,000 into Lebanon just in one day in an unusual spike.
Syrian hospital with Canadian volunteers bombed
The CBC's Sasa Petricic, who had visited the embattled city of Aleppo, reports on recent happenings:
"One hospital we visited was in a battered 4-storey building just north of Aleppo. Today, it’s a pile of rubble … levelled late yesterday by a bomb dropped from the air by Syrian government forces.
The area was firmly in rebel hands when we were in the hospital. Over the past few days though, the area has seen renewed fighting. It’s near the major highway that leads north from Aleppo to the Turkish border, and strategically important.
We followed two Canadian medical volunteers – Dr. Jay Dahman and paramedic Mark Cameron, both from the Toronto area – as they visited the hospital twice.
Once, they treated an injured rebel soldier … another time, they trained young Syrian nurses in emergency medicine. All of this was in the hospital basement, the only floor considered safe after several other air attacks damaged other sections. After yesterday’s bombing, that also collapsed, killing one patient and injuring many others."Watch Sasa Petricic's report on the hospital
He said the estimated figures are "really the highest we have had in quite some time" compared with an average 2,000 to 3,000 Syrians fleeing daily.
This brings the number of Syrian refugees registered with the agency to more than 408,000.
Earlier, a Turkish government official said more than 5,000 refugees crossed into Turkey overnight to escape violence.
The Turkish official at the government's crisis management centre said Friday that they crossed into the Turkish border provinces of Mardin, Sanliurfa and Hatay, raising the number of refugees in the country to close to 120,000. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with government rules.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency also said Friday a group of Syrian soldiers, including two generals and 11 colonels, fled to Turkey with their families. The 71 people arrived in the Turkish border province of Hatay seeking refuge. They were taken to a camp that shelters military defectors, including dozens of other generals.
Anti-government activists say more than 36,000 people have been killed so far, including thousands of government troops. Several hundred thousand Syrians have fled to Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq.
In an interview with a Russian broadcaster that was released in full on Friday, Assad called the conflict in his country "terrorism through proxies," referring to foreign backing of the rebellion against his regime.
"We do not have a civil war," Assad said in the interview with the English-language Russia Today TV. "It is about terrorism and the support coming from abroad to terrorists to destabilize Syria. This is our war."
In an excerpt of the interview aired a day earlier, Assad said he will "live and die" in Syria and will not leave his country.
Assad acknowledged his troops are fighting a "tough war and a difficult war," adding that when foreign countries stop sending arms to rebels, "I can tell [you] that in weeks we can finish everything."
Assad said, in English, he does not regret any decision he has made since March 2011, when the uprising against his government began.
Sophie Shevarnadze, the journalist who conducted the 26-minute interview, said during the broadcast that she met Assad in a "newly renovated" presidential palace in Damascus.
On Friday, clashes continued between the Syrian regime forces and rebels, with fighting for a second day around the town of Ras al-Ayn, in al-Hasaka province in northeastern Syria. The violence forced Turkish authorities to keep schools in the neighbouring Turkish town of Ceylanpinar closed.
Turkish officials said Thursday that rebels had taken control of the border crossing in Ras al-Ayn, but clashes continued around a security building.