• Syrian refugees cross the Lebanese side of the al-Masnaa border July 20, 2012. Up to 30,000 Syrian refugees may have crossed into Lebanon in the past 48 hours, in a sharp increase of people fleeing fighting in the country, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

  • Syria: ICRC responds to violence in Damascus People in Damascus had been feeling unsafe for weeks, but the situation has become even more tense since the beginning of this week. Many shops are closed, there is little traffic on the streets and fewer people venture outside their homes.

    "Reports are reaching us that many people are in need of medical care and that thousands of families have left their homes because of the violence," said Robert Mardini, the ICRC's head of operations for the Near and Middle East.

    "Together with the volunteers of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, we are trying to gain a better understanding of the humanitarian situation. We are continuously assessing needs," said Mr Mardini. "So far, five schools have been supplied with mattresses to accommodate people who had to leave their homes. And we will soon deliver other household essentials and food parcels for people temporarily taking refuge in the schools." Other schools that now stand empty will also be supplied in case more people require temporary shelter.

    The ICRC has already pre-positioned wound-dressing materials and other medical items with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which has been treating people for injuries in several locations this week.

    In the last two days, over 18,000 people have crossed into Lebanon, and the flow of refugees is likely to continue. While many found refuge with relatives and friends across the country, communities in the Bekaa will probably have to host thousands of others. As soon as the extent of the influx became clear on 19 July, the Lebanese Red Cross stationed an emergency medical team with three ambulances at the Masnaa border crossing, providing medical care and water.

    Today, 20 July, the ICRC added medical personnel to this team and started distributing essential household items to those most in need. In total, 300 families have already received this type of aid.

    Since mid-2011, the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have brought aid to over 600,000 people affected by the violence in several parts of Syria, including in Dar'a, Homs, Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Rural Damascus.

    The ICRC's urgently needed humanitarian activities will continue in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Despite the difficult situation some 50 ICRC staff, including 12 expatriates, continue to work in support of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

    For further information, please contact:
    Alexis Heeb, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 37 72 or +41 79 218 76 10
    Rabab Al-Rifaï, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 993 700 847 or +963 11 331 0476
    Cecilia Goin, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 930 177 746
    Samar El Kadi, ICRC Beirut, tel: +961 70 153 928
  • Syrian Refugee Crisis: Rapid Assessment Report Amman, Jordan – July 2012

    In response to the Syrian refugee crisis unfolding in Jordan, CHF International’s office of humanitarian assistance conducted a rapid needs assessment in the Northern Governorates of Irbid, AL Mafraq, and Amman, focused on understanding the shelter needs and overall livelihood security of Syrian refugees residing in CHF’s current area of operation.

    Utilizing a combination of survey instruments and focus group discussions, the assessment targeted Syrian refugees and hostfamily representatives in districts known to be accommodating large concentrations of displaced.
  • A man walks while holding a baby as Syrian refugees cross the Lebanese-Syrian border of al-Masnaa July 20, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

  • Syrian government forces pounded rebels in Damascus overnight, battling to reverse opposition gains in the aftermath of the assassination of President Bashar al-Assad's security chiefs.

    Army helicopters and tanks aimed rockets, machineguns and mortars at pockets of rebel fighters who have infiltrated the capital this week in an operation they call "Damascus Volcano".

    The surge in violence has trapped millions of Syrians, turned sections of Damascus into ghost areas, and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighbouring Lebanon.

    The U.N. Security Council has approved a 30-day extension for a ceasefire observer mission, but Ban has recommended changing its focus to pursuing prospects for a political solution - effectively accepting there was no truce to monitor.

    Diplomats said only half of the 300 unarmed observers would be needed for Ban's suggested plan, and several monitors were seen departing from Damascus on Saturday.

    Speaking two days after Russia and China vetoed a resolution to impose further sanctions on Assad's government, Ban called on the Security Council to "redouble efforts to forge a united way forward and exercise its collective responsibility".

    "The Syrian government has manifestly failed to protect civilians and the international community has collective responsibility to live up to the U.N. Charter and act on its principles," he said.

    Regional and Western powers have voiced concern the conflict might become a full-blown sectarian war that could spill across borders. But Assad's opponents remain outgunned and divided.

    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking after contacts with the head of the Arab League and Qatar's prime minister, said all three agreed that it was time for Syria's fractured opposition to prepare to take charge of the country.

    "We would like to see the rapid formation of a provisional government representing the diversity of Syrian society," said Fabius. Syria's main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, operating in exile, has so far failed to unite Assad's disparate foes on a united political platform.

    On the military front, a senior Syrian defector said Assad could now rely only on an inner core of loyal army regiments, adding "the collapse of the regime is accelerating like a snowball".

    General Mustafa Sheikh said Assad's forces were transporting chemical arms across Syria for possible use against the rebels.

    "The regime has started moving its chemical stockpile and redistributing it to prepare for its use," said Sheikh, citing rebel intelligence obtained in recent days.

    The White House said on Saturday it was concerned about what might happen to chemical weapons in Syria but believed Damascus's stockpile "remains under government control".
  • A worker walks at the new Zaatri refugee camp with 200 tents to house Syrian refugees in the city of Mafraq on the Jordanian-Syrian border, northeast of Amman, July 21, 2012. The government of Jordan is preparing new camps to receive the processing of Syrian refugees, in anticipation of the displacement of large numbers of them. The UNHCR has been bracing for an exodus from Syria and a month ago it doubled its forecast for the number of refugees who could flee this year to 185,000. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

  • A general view of the new Zaatri refugee camp with 200 tents to house Syrian refugees in the city of Mafraq on the Jordanian-Syrian border, northeast of Amman, July 21, 2012. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

  • A general view of the new Zaatri refugee camp with 200 tents to house Syrian refugees in the city of Mafraq on the Jordanian-Syrian border, northeast of Amman, July 21, 2012. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

  • A general view of the new Zaatri refugee camp with 200 tents to house Syrian refugees in the city of Mafraq on the Jordanian-Syrian border, northeast of Amman, July 21, 2012. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

  • Syrian forces bombarded three districts of Damascus with helicopter gunships on Sunday, witnesses said, clawing back territory from rebels a week after the fighters launched what they called a final battle for the capital.

    Fighting also raged around the main intelligence headquarters in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo -- the country's main commercial and industrial hub -- and in Deir al-Zor on the Euprhates river, the largest city in the east.

    Rebels said they had captured a third border crossing with Turkey on Sunday, Bab al-Salam north of Aleppo, while Iraqi officials said Syrian forces had regained control of one of two border crossings seized by rebels on the frontier with Iraq.
  • As the sharp escalation of violence in the Syrian capital of Damascus forces increasing numbers of Syrians to flee into neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, International Medical Corps says it is scaling up its operations in those countries to provide emergency assistance. UNHCR is reporting that 18,000 Syrians have crossed into Lebanon in just the last 48 hours.
  • Civilians are seeking refuge with relatives and friends inside and outside Syria, in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, according to the International Red Cross (ICRC). Their numbers are growing by the thousands every day. Many people have no one to turn to and are taking shelter in public buildings - in empty schools, often used by displaced people in various parts of Syria, and these days in Damascus as well.
  • A man writes names on fresh graves of people whom activists say were killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, after their funeral at the Qusseer neighbourhood of Homs July 19, 2012. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout

  • Syrian troops usually came before dawn, rounding up young Kurdish men to force them into an army they did not see as their own and into a fight for a government that treated them as outsiders, writes Reuters correspondent Patrick Markey.

    When they came, Syrian law student Ahmed slipped out, leaving his family and crossing the border in April into Iraqi Kurdistan to join thousands of Syrian Kurds now living among their Iraqi brethren in a refugee camp or homes of relatives.

    As Syria's crisis escalates, Syria's Kurdish provinces have been spared most of the violence. But increasingly, Syrian Kurds say they are fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan to escape from growing economic hardship, kidnappings and instability.

    More than 7,000 Syrians have crossed the border and found their way to Kurdistan, where local authorities and international agencies have set up a camp on a dusty plain. Diggers are already preparing land for more.
  • Four Syrian refugees and four members of the Turkish security forces were hurt on Sunday when riots broke out at a refugee camp in Turkey near the Syrian border, the Dogan News Agency said.

    The clashes erupted when a group of 1,500 or so ethnic Turkmen refugees from Syria arrived at the camp near the town of Islahiye, witnesses told Dogan.

    Television footage showed armoured personnel carriers entering the camp and police firing weapons into the air to disperse groups of men fighting each other with fists and clubs.
  • Syrian rebel forces on Sunday seized the army's infantry school in the town of Musalmiyeh, 16 km (ten miles) north of the city of Aleppo, a senior military defector based in Turkey and rebel sources inside Syria said.

    "This is of big strategic and symbolic importance. The school has ammunition depots and armoured formations and it protects the northern gate to Aleppo," Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh told Reuters by phone from the town of Apayden on the border with Syria.
  • Syrian troops have driven rebel fighters out of two districts of Damascus a week after the insurgents launched a major assault on the capital.

    Government troops retook control of the Damascus neighbourhood of Mezzeh on Sunday and executed at least 20 unarmed men who they suspected of aiding rebels, opposition activists in the district said.

    In Barzeh, members of the Syrian army's Fourth Division under the command of President Bashar al-Assad's brother executed several young men during an operation to regain control of the northern Damascus district, a witness and activists said.
  • Syrian forces put down mutiny in main jail on outskirts of Aleppo, kill 15 prisoners - activists in Aleppo who spoke to prisoners say
  • Syrian army battles rebels in central Aleppo who are trying to take the old city - residents and opposition activists say
  • More than 10,000 Iraqis have returned home from Syria over the past week to escape the violence that is also causing thousands of Syrians to seek safety in safer districts or in neighbouring countries - UNHCR
  • Not sure whether to be terrified or impressed the Coca-Cola has this incredible data. Water Risk Atlas:
  • Russia "proceeds from the assumption" that Syria will not use chemical weapons, foreign ministry statement says
  • U.S. Secretary of State Clinton says opposition territorial gains in Syria will eventually result in "safe haven", base for further actions
  • Clinton says "it is not too late for Syria's Assad to commence planning for a political transition
  • Syrian refugees are shown in temporary accommodation with their relatives at a school in Wadi Khaled town, near the Syria border in north Lebanon July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

  • Syrian troops backed by helicopter gunships fought rebels trying to seize central Aleppo on Tuesday and pursued a campaign to regain full control of the capital Damascus, residents and opposition activists said.

    After a week of battles between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and his opponents in Damascus, fighting intensified in Aleppo, a more populous commercial city that had long seemed immune to the 16-month-old upheaval convulsing Syria.

    Rebels seeking to capture downtown Aleppo were combating Syrian troops and intelligence men at the gates of the Old City, a U.N. World Heritage site, residents and activists said.

    Witnesses reported the army was bombarding several quarters with artillery and mortars as helicopters flew overhead.
  • More than 10,000 Iraqis have returned home from Syria over the past week to escape the violence that is also causing thousands of Syrians to seek safety in safer districts or in neighbouring countries, the U.N. refugee agency says.

    Many of the Iraqi returnees have said they are worried about going back to the country they fled, but felt they had little choice, given the worsening security situation in Syria.

    UNHCR has increased the numbers of staff manning hotlines in Syria and they have been kept very busy. "We have heard [from callers] that refugees are running short of food and basic needs, including cooking gas. There is a need for medical care with many clinics closed," UNHCR's chief spokesperson told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. "Many refugees report continued fear for their safety, particularly the women and children."
  • Increasingly under pressure by rebels intent on unseating him, Bashar al-Assad has considered using chemical weapons against his enemies but Washington and Moscow have formed an unlikely alliance to force him to abandon such plans, writes Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul.

    Analysts and diplomats across the region and beyond do not doubt that the Assad government, recoiling from a devastating attack on its security establishment last week and struggling to contain rebel offensives across Syria, is capable of using agents such as Sarin gas if its survival is at stake.

    Yet some believe that the government's unprecedented admission that it possesses a chemical stockpile -- although in safe storage and only to be deployed against "external aggressors" -- is an attempt to allay international alarm that might prompt outside intervention to secure the weapons.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that despite opposition gains, it was not too late for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to begin planning for a political transition.

    "We do believe that it is not too late for the Assad regime to commence with planning for a transition, to find a way that ends the violence by beginning the kind of serious discussions that have not occurred to date," Clinton told reporters.

    She said it was also important for Syria's armed opposition to make clear that it was fighting for all Syrians and not to seek reprisals or retribution that could lead to more violence. (Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by David Brunnstrom)
  • Syrian security forces dropped leaflets across Damascus on Tuesday warning rebel gunmen to give up their arms and surrender, opposition activists said.

    "The weapon you are carrying has become a burden on you, and there is no hope for you to survive unless you drop your weapon," said the leaflets, dropped by helicopters.

    "The moment of truth has come. The men of the Syrian Arab Army are coming, time is running out and the wise man is the one who saves himself," said the leaflets, signed by the armed forces general command.

    Activists reported seeing the leaflets in the neighbourhoods of Zahira and Midan, where the army launched a fierce counter-attack against last week's rebel offensive in the capital.
  • A Syrian refugee sits with her daughters in temporary accommodations with their relatives at a school in Wadi Khaled town, near the Syria border in north Lebanon July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

  • Syrian army helicopters fired rockets and machineguns near central Aleppo on Tuesday as they battled rebels trying to enlarge their foothold in Syria's second city, forcing residents to flee.

    "I heard at least 20 rockets fired, I think from helicopters, and also a lot of machinegun fire," said a resident near one of the areas being shelled, who asked only to be identified by his first name Omar.

    "Almost everyone has fled in panic, even my family. I have stayed to try to stop the looters, we hear they often come after an area is shelled," he added.
  • Russian foreign minister Lavrov accuses United States of justifying terrorism in Syria.
  • Syria's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates defects to Qatar - Syrian National Council member
  • Syria sent thousands of troops surging towards Aleppo in the early hours of Wednesday, where its forces have been pounding rebel fighters from the air, engulfing the country's largest city in total warfare to put down a revolt.

    Recent days have seen Syria's 16-month-old uprising transformed from an insurgency in remote provinces into a battle for control of the two main cities, Aleppo and the slightly smaller capital, Damascus, where fighting exploded last week.

    For more, read the full story by Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Erika Solomon
  • The Syrian army turned its forces on Aleppo on Wednesday, ordering an armoured column to advance on the country's second biggest city and pounding rebels there with artillery and attack helicopters, opposition activists said.

    As hostilities intensified near the Turkish border, Ankara said it was closing its crossing posts, although the United Nations said refugees fleeing Syria would be allowed through.

    At the Syrian town of Azaz, a few miles south of the Turkish border, rebels appeared in control after heavy clashes over the past month in which they succeeded in driving out government forces, leaving the place a rubble-strewn ghost-town.

    For a full report by Reuters, please click here:
  • Feature by Sylvia Westall: Syrians flee to "safer" Iraq through reopened border

    At a bare concrete building on the western edge of Iraq, hundreds of Syrian refugee families wait in the shade, anxious to find out where they will spend the night after fleeing their homeland.

    Many of the men, women and children had come from the Syrian town of Albu Kamal and said Syrian rebel forces escorted them on the 7 km (4 miles) road to the main border gate with Iraq.

    Albu Kamal was captured by rebel forces last week in a push to seize Syria's international border crossings. Government forces have been trying to wrest back control, firing shells and rockets on the town, they said.
  • Syrian children take bottles of water from a bucket at a makeshift refugee camp inside Iraq after crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border at Albu Kamal-Qaim, the main border post between the two countries, July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

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