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News

Syrian refugee flow spikes as fighting grips Damascus

As renewed shelling hits the suburbs of Damascus, the French government has said it would take part in enforcing a partial no-fly zone over Syria. More than 200,000 Syrians have now fled the country.

At least 21 people have been killed in the third day of the military's campaign to regain control of outlying areas of the capital. According to opposition activist reports, the Syrian army used multiple rocket launchers to pound the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday.

The AFP news agency reported that Syrian warplanes crossed into Iraqi airspace Thursday, citing an Iraqi border guard and an official in the security command center of Anbar Province. The planes were attacking the border town of Albu Kamal in the east of Syria.

French no-fly zone proposal

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suggested there should be a partial closure of air space over the country. However, he cautioned that closing Syria's entire airspace would be tantamount to "going to war."

Le Drian said a "global no-fly zone" over Syria was ruled out as it would be tantamount to grounding all Syrian aircraft, which could not be done unless there was "an international coalition capable of doing it." He added that Paris would participate in a full no-fly operation if it followed international legal principles.

But Le Drian urged the international community to consider backing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria. "A possible delimited zone around which there could be a ban of some sort, such as suggested by Hillary Clinton, should be studied," he said.

Earlier this month during talks with Turkish leaders in Istanbul, US Secretary of State Clinton said imposing no-fly zones around Syrian cities such as Aleppo "needs greater in-depth analysis."

Refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that more than 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries during the conflict. This already surpasses the projection of 185,000 set out by the UNHCR for the end of this year.

"We are now at a much higher level of 202,512 refugees in the surrounding region," the UNHCR's Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday. "The deteriorating security situation in Lebanon is hampering our work to help refugees fleeing Syria's conflict, though operations are continuing."

Edwards said the total reflects an increase of some 30,000 in the last week alone to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.

Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said more than 3,500 people fleeing violence in Syria have entered Turkey over the last 24 hours alone. This represents one of the highest daily refugee flows since the start of the uprising in March 2011.

AFAD said there are now 78,000 Syrian refugees taking shelter in Turkey.

New envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due to meet UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday to discuss the 17-month-long conflict.

Film-maker disappears at airport

Award-winning Syrian film maker Orwa Nyrabia is believed to have been arrested as he was about to leave Syria on a flight to Egypt on Thursday. His family say they lost contact with him shortly after his arrival at Damascus airport. According to Egyptian Airlines, he did not board the plane.

jm/slk (AFP, Reuters, AP)