2,400 Syrians cross into Turkey, report


Some 2,400 people crossed into Turkey overnight to escape the escalating violence in Syria, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Wednesday, as rebels tried to expand control inside Syria’s largest city and the humanitarian crisis appeared to be growing.

Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister said some of the 48 Iranians seized by Syrian rebels are retired members of the Revolutionary Guard and the army, but denied they had any role in aiding President Bashar Assad’s regime

The group of mostly women and children crossing overnight also included two generals and two colonels defecting from Syria’s army, the Anadolu Agency said.

The agency said nine of the refugees — including women and children — were injured in violence in villages near Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial center, and Idlip, both close to the Turkish border.

There has been a marked increase in the number of refugees fleeing to Turkey in the past two days as Aleppo-based activists reported clashes near the historic city center.

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

Officials had reported 1,328 arrivals on Tuesday, nearly double the number of the previous day.

Some 50,000 Syrians have now found refuge in Turkey, which has served as a staging ground for rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime. Even more refugees have crossed into Jordan and Lebanon.

“Unfortunately, there is a human tragedy going on in Syria,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said Wednesday, keeping up Turkey’s criticism of the violence that has claimed at least 19,000 lives.

Assad on Tuesday made his first appearance on state TV in nearly three weeks, in a show of solidarity with senior Iranian envoy Saeed Jalili. Speaking on state TV, the two vowed to defeat the rebels and their backers.

The visit to Damascus by the highest-ranking Iranian official since the uprising began coincided with a warning by an increasingly agitated Tehran that it holds the U.S. responsible for the fate of the seized Iranian.

The Syrian rebels have grown more confident and are using increasingly bolder tactics. They seized the Iranians in a bold daylight attack near Damascus on Saturday, claiming they were sent on a “reconnaissance mission” to assist in Assad’s crackdown.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi acknowledged some of the Iranians are retired members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, but maintained that they were pilgrims visiting a Shiite shrine.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has announced openly that some of the pilgrims kidnapped are retired members of the Guard and the Army,” IRNA quoted Salehi as saying during a visit to Turkey.

“It had been decided to send groups of pilgrims from other ministries after the (48) pilgrims return.”

“If these people had been dispatched to Syria for specific purposes, then how they drove with a normal bus without equipment and holding their identification cards?” Salehi asked.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is the nation’s largest military force many former members travel around the region.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu promised to help the Iranians.

“We would not spare any kind of help so that those kidnapped in Syria are returned to their families,” he said. “When the issue is a humanitarian one, we would make all kinds of contributions.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton predicted Assad’s regime was quickly unraveling, with high-level defections, and urged more planning for the regime’s collapse.

The Associated Press