UNHCR: Syrian refugees exceed 500,000

A Syrian refugee boy walks through mud at a refugee camp in Atimeh, on the Syrian-Turkish border of the Idlib Governorate on 10 December 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Abdalghne Karoof)

Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The number of Syrian refugees across the Middle East and North Africa has exceeded 500,000, as international powers continue to debate a course of action on the Syrian conflict.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it had either registered or was in the process of registering 509,550 Syrians in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and North Africa.

"And these numbers are currently climbing by more than 3,000 a day," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

"In addition to those already registered or awaiting registration, most of these neighboring countries and North Africa also have large numbers of Syrians who have yet to come forward and seek help," Fleming said.

Meanwhile, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on Tuesday that Russia has resisted recent US appeals to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit.

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly said Moscow is not trying to prop up Assad but that he must not be ousted from power by external forces, citing the principle of non-interference in sovereign states' affairs.

Kommersant pointed to a more practical reason for Russia's resistance as well. "Moscow is convinced that Assad will not go voluntarily," it said, echoing remarks by Russian officials.

Russia shares US concerns about further violence and the Syrian chemical arsenal, though it believes there is a greater threat that the weapons could fall into the hands of militants than be used by the government, Kommersant said.

The United States has issued warnings over the past several weeks over a possibility that the Syrian government may use chemical weapons.

However, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cited intelligence reports Tuesday which found that Syria has not taken any recent steps showing it would use chemical weapons against rebels.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)

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