Thousands seek refuge in Lebanon from Syria flare-up

Thousands seek refuge in Lebanon from Syria flare-up
Syrian refugee children play with a garbage bin bearing the European flag in a refugee camp on November 15, 2013 near the village of Dalhamiyah in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa valley. Thousands of Syrian refugees have poured into Lebanon over the past two days as fighting between government forces and rebels has flared near the border, a local official said on November 16, 2013.

BEIRUT - Thousands of Syrian refugees have poured into Lebanon over the past two days as fighting between government forces and rebels has flared near the border, a Lebanese official said Saturday.

The refugees were fleeing the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus, a strategic border district with a mixed Sunni Muslim and Christian population where both sides have been massing forces.

"Some 1,000 families have fled to Arsal since Friday," said Ahmad al-Hojairi, a local official in the Sunni Muslim Lebanese border town.

"We are trying to accommodate them in people's homes and in tents, but there is no way we can cover for their needs," he told AFP.

"We need urgent help from the international community to adequately support them."

Coming mostly from Qara village in Qalamoun, the families were crossing the border by car, by motorbike or on foot, he said.

Lebanon already hosts more than 814,000 Syrian refugees and is ill-placed to cope with a new influx fleeing the conflict in its larger neighbour.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman warned that the Qalamoun area was "witnessing the lead-up to a major battle".

Residents on the Lebanese side of the border said they heard the sound of heavy shelling from the Syrian side throughout Friday.

After months of being largely spared the violence tearing other areas of the country, parts of Qalamoun have faced nearly-daily shelling.

A Syrian security source told AFP the fighting in Qara was the result of a move by the army "to chase down the terrorists who fled from Mahin."

The town in adjacent Homs province is the site of a major weapons depot which the army announced it had recaptured on Friday after weeks of fighting with the rebels.

Further north, troops pressed an offensive to consolidate their supply lines to the battleground northern city of Aleppo.

"Most of the road linking Sfeira to Aleppo city is in regime hands," said the Observatory's Abdel Rahman.

In the capital, shelling of the government-held Kassaa and Abbasiyeen neighbourhoods killed one woman, the Observatory added.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule erupted in March 2011.

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