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UN: Syrian refugees top 200,000 as exodus grows

AP Photo / Muhammed Muheisen

An elderly man who fled his home due to fighting between the forces of President Bashar Assad and rebels takes refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, on Thursday.

More than 200,000 Syrians have poured into neighboring countries during the conflict, already surpassing the projection of 185,000 set out by the U.N. refugee agency for the end of this year.

Meanwhile, more than 3,500 people fleeing violence in Syria entered Turkey over the past 24 hours, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate said Friday, one of the highest daily refugee flows since the start of the uprising last year.

The total of fleeing Syrians reflects an increase of some 30,000 in the past week alone to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, but also takes into account a change in the way the agency counts those in Jordan, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

UN: Syrian refugees top 200,000 as exodus grows

"We are now at a much higher level of 202,512 refugees in the surrounding region," Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in a briefing.

As fighting continues in Syria, observers blame government airstrikes for mounting casualties which activists now say top 20,000. NBC News' John Ray reports.

"In Jordan, a record 2,200 people crossed the border overnight and were received at Za'atri camp in the north," he said.

Edwards, referring to Lebanon where 51,000 Syrian refugees are now registered, said: "The deteriorating security situation in Lebanon is hampering our work to help refugees fleeing Syria's conflict, though operations are continuing." 

Town hammered
The news came after reports that troops and tanks swept into a town near capital Damascus in an assault aimed at crushing opposition to President Bashar Assad in Syria's increasingly bloody civil war. 

Artillery and helicopters hammered the Sunni Muslim town of Daraya on Thursday, killing 25 people and wounding 200 over the previous 48 hours, opposition sources told Reuters. Soldiers moved in and raided houses. 

As civil war rages on in Syria, there is growing concern over violence that is spreading to neighboring countries. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

"Artillery is firing from Qasioun Mountain in regular bursts of heavy barrages. I wonder what is left of the town," said one woman watching the shelling from Damascus. 

At least 100 people, including 59 civilians, died in violence across the country, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Some 200 were killed on Wednesday. 

Photos: Displaced Syrians struggle to find safe shelter

An estimated 20,000 people have been killed in 18 months of unrest in Syria. 

There was little resistance as Assad's forces pushed toward the center of Daraya on the southwest edge of Damascus. Armed rebels had apparently already left. 

At least nine people die as Sunni Muslims and Alawites fight for a second day. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

"They are using mortar bombs to clear each sector. Then they enter it, while moving towards the center," said Abu Zeid, an activist speaking by phone from near Daraya. 

Assad's military had driven insurgents from most of the areas they seized in and around the capital after a bomb killed four top security officials on July 18. But rebels have crept back, regrouping without taking on the army in pitched battles. 

Tanks and troops attacked the southwest Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya on Monday and Tuesday, killing 86 people, half of them in cold blood, according to Assad's opponents. 

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It is hard to verify such assertions due to state curbs on independent media. Syrian leaders say they are fighting "armed terrorists" backed by Western and Gulf Arab nations out to topple Assad for his resistance to Israel and the United States. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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