Up to 11,000 people flee Syria in 24 hours

BEIRUT (AP) — As many as 11,000 people fled Syria in 24 hours, some of them desperately clambering through a razor-wire fence into Turkey on Friday to escape fierce fighting between rebels and government forces for control of a border town.

The exodus is a sign of the escalating ferocity of the violence, which has killed more than 36,000 people since March 2011. Despite the bloodshed, embattled President Bashar Assad insisted there was no civil war in Syria, saying in a rare TV appearance that he was protecting Syrians against “terrorism” supported from abroad.

The flood of Syrians into neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon was “the highest that we have had in quite some time,” said Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. refugee agency’s regional coordinator for the region.

About 2,000 to 3,000 people are fleeing Syria daily, and the recent surge brings the number registered with the agency to more than 408,000, he said.

During the 24-hour period that began Thursday, 9,000 Syrians crossed into Turkey — including 70 who were wounded and two who then died, U.N. officials said. Jordan and Lebanon each absorbed another 1,000 refugees.

The largest flow into Turkey came from the fighting at Ras al-Ayn in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka. The town hugs the border, practically adjacent to the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.

On Thursday, rebels captured a border crossing between the two towns, Ceylanpinar’s mayor, Ismail Aslan, told The Associated Press by telephone.

Rebels on Friday overran three security compounds in the town belonging to the military intelligence, air force intelligence and general intelligence directorate agencies, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group.

More than 20 soldiers were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.

Regime forces shelled rebel positions Friday morning, Aslan said. Regime tanks were also moving in to join the fight.

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