UN Says ‘Remarkable Increase’ in Syrians Fleeing to Turkey

The United Nations’ refugee agency said there has been “a remarkable increase” of Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey, following reports that Syrian troops continued sweeping northern regions to quash anti-government protests.

Official numbers for the refugee influx will be released tomorrow, according to Metin Corabatir, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The number is likely to be much higher than the 600 estimated by the Turkish Red Crescent to have arrived since the last count early yesterday, he said by telephone from Turkey.

The refugees arrived in Turkey in a convoy of about 20 minibuses and were met by Turkish soldiers and escorted to nearby camps, the Associated Press reported. Syrian soldiers were patrolling the border village of Khirbet al-Jouz in military vehicles and on foot early today, the AP said.

Protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s 11-year rule began in mid-March, and at least 1,420 civilians have been killed since then, according to a tally by the National Organization for Human Rights through June 21.

Syrians have been crossing into Turkey since June 8 to escape violence in and around the towns of Jisr al-Shughour and Ma’arrat an Nu’man. The official number of Syrians living in tented cities in Turkey stood at 10,224 early today. Yesterday, it was 10,219 and it was 10,718 on June 21, Corabatir said.

Head-to-Head

While international pressure on Syria increased this week after Assad blamed the protests on a foreign conspiracy, the deadlock over UN action continued in New York. The U.S. and Russia went head-to-head over the issue of whether the UN Security Council should press Assad to halt his attacks.

The U.S. inserted an expression of “concern over reported human rights abuses” in Syria into a Security Council draft resolution to renew the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights. The U.S. text also notes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report that that anti-government demonstrations in Syria have spread to the Israel-Syrian border.

Before the U.S. draft could be formally introduced, Russia put forward a version of the mandate renewal that doesn’t mention the political unrest. The move ensured that the Security Council would have to vote on Russia’s text first.

“Many members of the Security Council said we need to go the traditional way,” Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said, meaning a routine extension of the mandate for six months. It “should not be something completely different,” he said.

Russia has led opposition at the UN, including Brazil, China, India and South Africa, to all U.S. and European proposed statements on the situation.

“The Security Council should speak clearly and unequivocally about what is happening internally in Syria,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters. “The Security Council should speak with one voice and be clear in condemning what are obviously very irresponsible and unacceptable actions taken by the government of Syria.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Caroline Alexander in London at calexander1@bloomberg.net; Bill Varner in New York at wvarner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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