BEIRUT – The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo, where intense clashes flared again Monday between regime forces bombarding rebels who have seized large swathes of the city.
Valerie Amos, the top U.N. official for humanitarian affairs, said the 200,000 had fled during 10 days of clashes in Syria’s largest city and commercial hub.
“I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of tanks and other heavy weapons on people in Aleppo,” Amos said in a statement late Sunday. “Many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer areas,” she added. “They urgently need food, mattresses and blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water.”
Amos said U.N. agencies and the Syrian Red Crescent are working together on supplying those affected by the fighting all over the country with blankets and humanitarian supplies, but many remain out of their reach because of fighting.
“It is not known how many people remain trapped in places where fighting continues today,” she warned. Aleppo has about 3 million inhabitants.
Fleeing residents have described to The Associated Press incessant shelling, shortages of food and gasoline and soaring black market prices for everyday staples. They scurry through streets against a backdrop of gunfire and climbed onto any form of transportation available to escape, including trucks, cars and even heavily laden motorcycles.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said late Sunday that the use of heavy weapons, particularly helicopters, is just another nail in President Bashar Assad’s coffin.
He spoke during a stopover in Tunisia as he kicked off a Mideast tour expected to focus on the unfolding crisis in Syria.
The Syrian regime has been plagued by a string of defections, including three high-ranking diplomats and several military commanders. On Monday, a Turkish official said a Syrian brigadier general who was deputy chief of police in the Latakia region had defected.
He was among a group of 12 Syrian officers who crossed into Turkey late Sunday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. His defection raised to 28 the number of generals who have left for Turkey since the start of the 17-month-old uprising.