More Syrians flee to Turkey as fighting spreads

KILIS, Turkey (AP) — More than 1,300 Syrians fled to Turkey overnight to escape the civil war as rebels tried to expand their hold inside Syria’s largest city despite two weeks of withering counterattacks by President Bashar Assad’s troops.

Assad, meanwhile, met in Damascus with an envoy from key ally Iran and was quoted by Syrian official media as vowing to fight on.

Heavily armed government troops have been steadily shelling rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo, particularly Salaheddine and other districts on the southwestern edge of the strategic city.

Aleppo-based activists said clashes were going on Tuesday near the historic city center. That suggests the rebels were making some inroads in Aleppo, which lies some 25 miles from the Turkish border.

Intense government bombardment of the Syrian town of Tal Rafaat closer to the border sent scores of people spilling into Turkey for safety, according to the activists.

A Turkish government official said 1,328 Syrian refugees had crossed the border by midmorning — nearly double the number of refugees who reached Turkey on Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

Close to 48,000 Syrians have now found refuge in Turkey, which has served as a staging ground for rebels fighting Assad’s regime.

“We are expecting a massacre in Aleppo. The regime is bringing reinforcements to the city because they believe that if Aleppo falls, the regime will fall,” said a Syrian refugee in Turkey who identified himself as Abu Ahmad.

“The city is being bombed from the air and ground,” he said, adding he was in daily contact with residents still in the city.

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