150,000 Syrian refugees seek UN help

The UN refugee agency says almost 150,000 people fleeing Syria's civil war have sought its help, a figure that is expected to rise significantly.

Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq report big increases this week

A Syrian refugee boy sits beside bags as he arrived at the border crossing by the Iraqi town of Qaim, 320 kilometres west of Baghdad, Iraq. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)

A rising tide of civilians fleeing Syria's violence is hitting four neighbouring countries where almost 150,000 are being helped in camps run by the UN refugee agency and its partners, officials said Friday.

That figure counts only Syrians who have registered or are in the process of registering as refugees. Officials acknowledge the real number of Syrian refugees is likely above 200,000 since tens of thousands are believed to have not yet registered with authorities. 

In late June, UN agencies estimated they would need $193 million to help 185,000 refugees from Syria by the end of 2012.

Spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters Friday in Geneva that the UN refugee agency's offices in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq have all reported big increases this week in the number of registrants.

Syrian refugees arrive at the border crossing by the Iraqi town of Qaim, 320 kilometres west of Baghdad. (Karim Kadim/Associated Press)

As of Thursday night, the agency had taken note of 146,667 such people — 50,227 in Turkey, 45,869 in Jordan, 36,841 in Lebanon and 13,730 in Iraq.

"In several countries, we know there to be (additional) substantial refugee numbers, but these people have not yet registered," Edwards said. 

There were more than 6,000 new arrivals in Turkey this week alone, many from the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo and surrounding villages, while others came from Idlib and Latakia. "Where fighting happens, we tend to see the consequences," he added.

Turkey has nine sites, including a new camp this week at Akcakale, for its fast-growing refugee population, of which 72 per cent is women and children.

The International Organization for Migration said in a report Friday that more than 1,100 third-country nationals have sought its help to return home from Damascus and that 25 embassies — including those of Indonesia, Sudan and Yemen — have asked it to arrange travel out of Syria for another 3,011 people.

International pleas, sanctions

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Friday that it is increasing sanctions on individuals and organizations linked to the Syrian regime.

Twenty-nine senior government officials and six companies, including one owned by Rami Makhluf, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad, have now been barred from dealing with the U.S.

The Elders, a group of independent leaders around the world led by Nelson Mandela, also made a plea Friday urging Syrian parties to protect civilians during the conflict. In a statement, they expressed "deep moral outrage" at the international community's failure to halt the carnage in Syria.  

"As (UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan's) resignation statement made clear, the blaming and finger-pointing at the highest levels of the international community are unconscionable distractions from the bloodshed, death and destruction unfolding each day in Syria," said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Elders.

U.K. offers aid to Syrian opposition

Britain's government, meanwhile, said it was offering $7.7 million to Syria's rebel forces Friday to pay for communications equipment and medical supplies in an effort to bolster ties with the Syrian opposition.

Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that the U.K. would not supply any weapons, but confirmed the funds would pay for items including satellite phones, power generators and medical kits. He said diplomats would also intensify contacts with the political wing of the Free Syrian Army as concern grows over the country's possible fate if President Bashar Assad's regime is deposed.

Battles rage in Aleppo, Damascus

Activists say Syrian government forces are battling rebels outside the capital Damascus and in Aleppo, where fighting for control over the country's largest city has raged for more than two weeks. 

The activists group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says residents have reported hearing loud blasts in Damascus on Friday from the shelling on the outer edges of the city.

Syrian troops say they have purged rebels from the capital after intense, week-long battles last month. But rebels continue to stage hit-and-run attacks and are active in the suburbs around the city.

Shelling and clashes are also continuing in the northern city Aleppo on Friday. The rebels said on Thursday they were low on ammunition but were still managing to put up resistance against a regime ground offensive there.

With files from CBC