Syrian refugee exodus swells ahead of Rome talks | News | DW | 27.02.2013
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Syrian refugee exodus swells ahead of Rome talks

The refugee exodus from Syria has soared to 5,000 a day, leaving neighboring states and aid agencies desperate, says the British-based charity Oxfam. Its warning precedes an international conference in Rome on Thursday.

A key figure at those talks, the new US Secretary of State John Kerry has signaled while visiting Paris that the United States may boost non-lethal aid to vetted rebels in Syria, where nearly two years of war have claimed 70,000 lives.

Oxfam's Syria crisis manager Francis Lacasse warned Wednesday that the United Nations' "worst-case scenario" that more than a million refugees will have fled Syria by June could become reality within just weeks.

Agencies now "desperately needed" funding that was promised by potential donor countries at a conference in Kuwait last month. So far, only 20 percent had been delivered, he said.

Syria's neighbor Jordan said Wednesday that in February alone it had taken in more than 50,000 news arrivals. On some nights, 3,000 Syrians crossed into Jordan, said a government spokesman in Amman.

The current UN count of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries is 925,000. Of these, Jordan hosts nearly 420,000, Lebanon 317,000 refugees and Turkey 185,000, despite strained resources.

Tens of thousands live at makeshift sites such as Jordan's Zaatari desert camp. Others have found shelter with host families.

Battles continue near Aleppo

On Syria's war fronts on Wednesday, government warplanes carried out raids on rebels who are trying to storm a police academy outside the key northern city of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group with links to the opposition. It also spoke of fierce clashes at Safira - southeast of Aleppo - as rebels block government supply convoys bound for Aleppo.

Tanks had also pounded the rebel-held town of Daraya, southwest of Damascus, while new clashes broke out in Irbin to the northeast, the observatory said.

'More help' for rebels, says Kerry

Visiting Paris as part of his European tour on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Kerry said he believed Syria's opposition needed "more help" to persuade a calculating President Bashar al-Assad that "he can't shoot his way out of this."

US and European officials quoted by the news agency Associated Press said a US decision to vastly increase the scale of assistance to al-Assad's foes was expected by Thursday when Kerry will attend an international conference in Rome.

The Washington Post said the US policy shift to supply rebels with "non-lethal" aid could include armored vehicles. Officials quoted by AP said Washington did not envisage American military training.

At Wednesday's joint press conference in Paris with French counterpart Laurent Fabius, Kerry did not elaborate but said: "We are examining and developing ways to accelerate the political transition that the Syrian people seek and deserve, and that is what we will be discussing in Rome,"

"We agree all of us on the fact that Mr. Bashar al-Assad has to quit," said Fabius.

Kerry's veiled remarks follow his talks on Tuesday in Berlin with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who indicated Russia's readiness to bring al-Assad, who has long had Moscow's backing, into dialogue with Syria's opposition.

Iraqi government worried

Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned Wednesday that a victory for Syria's mainly Sunni rebels could destabilize neighboring countries such as his own.

"If the world does not agree to support a peaceful solution through dialogue … then I see no light at the end of the tunnel," said Maliki.

ipj/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)