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Syrians fleeing as death toll climbs

Brutal fighting sends 100,000 across borders

A Syrian child stands next to rebel fighters checking a house that was damaged in a bombing by government forces in Marea, on the outskirts of Aleppo, on Tuesday. (Associated Press)
A Syrian child stands next to rebel fighters checking a house that was damaged in a bombing by government forces in Marea, on the outskirts of Aleppo, on Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Bassem Mroue Associated Press

BEIRUT – More than 100,000 Syrians fled their country in August, the highest monthly total since the crisis began in March 2011, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

That exodus sharply increased the number of Syrians now living in neighboring countries, bringing the total number of refugees to 234,368 in the past 17 months, the agency said.

Along with activists’ reports that the death toll in August was also the highest in the civil war with more than 5,000 killed, all signs are pointing to unprecedented levels of misery in a country where President Bashar Assad’s regime is fighting an increasingly violent rebellion.

“If you do the math, it’s quite an astonishing number,” U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said of the number of people who fled in August, speaking to reporters Tuesday in Geneva.

“And it points to a significant escalation in refugee movement and people seeking asylum, and probably points to a very precarious and violent situation inside the country,” she said.

But even the August figure only counts refugees who are registered and those awaiting registration. Officials acknowledge the real number of Syrian refugees is likely way above 200,000, because tens of thousands are believed to have not yet contacted authorities.

The uprising began with largely peaceful protests of Assad’s regime but has turned into a civil war that activists say has killed at least 23,000 people. If totals compiled by the government are included, the likely death toll now exceeds 30,000.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused both the Syrian government and the opposition of large-scale human right violations and failing to protect civilians fleeing the country.

“Prisoners on both sides are subject to harsh treatment and, often, torture,” Ban said in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly. “There have been alarming reports of summary executions on both sides.”

As Syrians look to escape the bloodshed, Assad told the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday that the group is welcome to operate in Syria – as long as it remains “neutral and independent.”

Assad has accused the international community of conspiring to unseat him.

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