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Syrians carry their belongings as they cross into Lebanon at the border crossing point in Masnaa, eastern Lebanon, about 40 kms from Damascus. STR/AP/Press Association Images

Thousands flee Syria as war rages on

Despite the UN’s extension of its observation mission, violence continues to escalate across the country.

TAXIS, BUSES AND private cars carried thousands of Syrians away from the capital city over the past two days as rebel fighters and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad continue to clash in some of the worst fighting seen since the unrest began 16 months ago.

Refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. A spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refguees said that various reports have claimed that between 8,500 and 30,000 people have crossed into Lebanon since Thursday.

As the Security Council renewed its mandate of UN observers for another 30 days, fierce battles raged in various areas of Damascus as the military tried to regain control of rebel-captured neighbourhoods.

The mission had recently suspended its regular patrols due to escalating violence but the Council unanimously voted yesterday to extend the plan for a final period of one month.

“We cannot abandon our collective responsibility to enable a peaceful, democratic, Syrian-led transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” said UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

The UN chief also called again on all parties, starting with the Syrian Government and opposition forces, to stop the killing, and especially the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 302 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, the deadliest day since the uprising erupted in mid-March last year. The British-based group said another 177 people died on Friday.

Last night, Syrian army helicopters and tanks bombarded the capital to try and stop rebel advancements, reports Reuters today. News of the all-out assault was blasted across Syria State television.

“Our brave army forces have completely cleansed the area of Mida in Damascus of the remaining mercenary terrorists and have re-established security,” it said, using the regime term for the rebels.

Opposition forces had gained much ground since Wednesday after a bomb at a government building killed the country’s Defence Minister, as well as Assad’s own brother-in-law and two other senior officials.

A state funeral was held for the three in Damascus on Friday ahead of their burials in their native provinces, the official SANA news agency reported, adding that Vice President Faruq al-Shara had attended but not Assad himself.

-Additional reporting by AP and AFP

Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law killed in Damascus suicide bombing>

Executions reported as rebels seize border crossings in Syria>

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