Free Syrian Army soldiers mans the last gate before the Turkish territory at the Bab Al-Salam border crossing July 22, 2012.

Turkish authorities sealed its border with Syria to commercial traffic but remain open for Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict, a UNHCR spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

“We’ve received assurances that it is staying open. The border is closed for all commercial traffic in both directions, that is what we heard from the Turkish government,” Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said.

Earlier, an official from the Turkish Customs and Trade Ministry told Reuters that all Turkey’s border gates with Syria are to be closed from Wednesday, in response to worsening security conditions.

More than 120,000 Syrian refugees are now registered in Jordan, Lebanon,Turkey and Iraq, the United Nations refugee agency announced Wednesday in the German city of Bonn.

Free Syrian Army soldiers mans the last gate before the Turkish territory at the Bab Al-Salam border crossing July 22, 2012.

Governments in those countries had said they were harbouring many more unregistered refugees, the UNHCR added, stressing that many of these displaced people were dependent on humanitarian aid and donations.

Three quarters of the refugees were women and children, the UN agency said.

“I am very thankful to the neighboring countries for keeping their borders open to refugees,” said UNHCR Commissioner Antonio Guterres.

Nevertheless, he said, there were shortages of accommodation, water, medication and food in the communities receiving refugees.

The news comes hours after Syrian helicopter gunships bombarded the district of al-Hajar al-Aswad in Damascus, an opposition group said.

President Bashar Assad’s forces also used artillery in the attack on the district located in the south of the capital, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It gave no casualty figures.

Meanwhile, Abd Latif Dabbagh, the Syrian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, announced his defection, a day after Syrian ambassador to Cyprus, Lamia al-Hariri, also defected and left for Qatar.

The Syrian government moved additional troops to Aleppo on Wednesday after clashes with rebels escalated in and around the country’s largest city, according to a news report.

About 2,000 soldiers along with tanks and artillery were moved from Idlib, 70 kilometers to the south-west, US broadcaster CNN quoted an official of the rebel Free Syrian Army as saying.

Fighting across Syria killed about 120 people Tuesday, the London-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

An estimated 21 people were killed in Aleppo, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria were quoted as saying by CNN. The group raised Tuesday’s country-wide toll to 133.

“Helicopter and tank shells are falling on areas in the outskirts of Aleppo, which came under the control of the rebels,” activist Abu Haytham al-Halabi said by phone.

Government forces were seeking to quell a mutiny in Aleppo’s central prison, where eight people were killed, the observatory said.

The Free Syrian Army described the mutiny as “the first step toward the liberation” of Aleppo.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the crisis in Syria was “accelerating” and that the opposition must ready for a post-Assad transition.

The offensive in Aleppo came as the Free Syrian Army warned that President Bashar Assad’s regime had moved chemical weapons to airports, Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera reported.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio that Israel will act determinedly should it identify the transfer of chemical or biological from Syria to Hezbollah.

Source: Haaretz


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