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Escalating battles produce massive refugees in north Syrian

07-30-2012 12:49 BJT

DAMASCUS, July 30 (Xinhua) -- Raging fighting in Syria's northern city of Aleppo have forced 200,000 Syrians to flee this week, and many more were trapped in the last two days, the United Nations said Sunday.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in a statement that massive refugees have fled the most populous city and many are trapped, appealing for safe access to Aleppo for aid groups.

Amos said that many people in the commercial hub of some 2.5 million crowded into basements seeking refuge from the intense bombardment by artillery and helicopters.

"They urgently need food, mattresses and blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water," she said. "I call on all parties to the fighting to ensure that they do not target civilians and that they allow humanitarian organizations safe access."

Helicopter gunships bombarded Aleppo and the thud of artillery boomed across neighborhoods as government forces and rebels fought for control of Syria's largest city.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, on a surprise visit to key ally Iran last week, said the rebels "will definitely be defeated" in Aleppo, even as a rebel commander boasted the city would become a "graveyard" for the army's tanks.

"We believe that all the anti-Syrian forces have gathered in Aleppo to fight the government ... and they will definitely be defeated," he told a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

A pro-government daily said last week that the battle in Aleppo was "the mother of all battles," adding that the army had started a very delicate operation to root out terrorism and regain control of the city.

The armed rebels were reported to have suffered heavy losses and retreated from one of the restive neighborhoods.

Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League joint envoy to Syria, expressed concern about the situation in Aleppo on Saturday, saying he feared an imminent battle there.

He urged both sides to hold back, saying only a political solution could end a conflict.

"The escalation of the military build-up in Aleppo and the surrounding area is further evidence of the need for the international community to come together to persuade the parties that only a political transition, leading to a political settlement, will resolve this crisis," he said.

The battles in Aleppo started a week ago, when the armed rebels started "to free Aleppo" after being dislodged from the capital.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have sought to cross into neighboring Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, due to the worsening violence in the 17-month-old conflict between government forces and rebels.

The UN High Commission for Refugees said in a latest report that nearly 34,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Lebanon.

Russia warned Saturday that it was unrealistic to expect Damascus to stand by when armed rebels were occupying major cities.

"When the armed opposition are occupying cities like Aleppo, where yet another tragedy is brewing ... it is not realistic to expect that they (the government) will accept this," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a joint news conference with his Japanese counterpart.

Lavrov also accused Western countries of providing assistance to the opposition fighters. "The price of this is yet more blood," he said.

Editor:James |Source: Xinhua

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