The online news portal of TV5
ALEPPO, Syria - The number of refugees fleeing civil war in Syria has surged to over 200,000, the UN said on Friday, as fighter jets and tanks reportedly unleashed deadly new raids in hotspots across the country.
Western powers are focused on tightening the screws on President Bashar al-Assad while the 17-month conflict grinds on with neither government forces nor rebels able to claim decisive gains on the battlefield.
Warplanes and artillery again pounded the northern hub of Aleppo and at least 21 civilians were killed in an air strike and shelling in the eastern town of Mayadin, a watchdog said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said August is already the deadliest single month of the conflict with more than 4,000 people killed in barely three weeks, and an overall death toll of around 24,500.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the new envoy on the conflict, was due to meet UN chief Ban Ki-moon later on Friday, with the world powers still deeply divided over how to end a conflict that is also heightening tensions in neighboring countries.
Thousands of Syrians took to the streets after weekly Muslim prayers, calling for Assad's downfall but also protesting at the lack of action by the international community.
"The world disgusts us," chanted protesters in Daraa, birthplace of the revolt that began with peaceful protests against the regime in March 2011.
The West is nevertheless ramping up the pressure, with Washington and London threatening possible action if Damascus uses its chemical weapons although Moscow has told them not to meddle in Syria's internal affairs.
France also said it backed a partial no-fly zone over Syria, where the regime is intensifying its attacks from the air as it battles to stamp out rebel strongholds in Aleppo and pockets of resistance in the capital Damascus.
Iran to include 'all parties'
Syria's only regional Iran said it will submit a proposal for ending the conflict at a Non-Aligned Movement summit next week, saying it included "all parties" but giving no further details.
France and Germany also said they are pushing for Security Council action on the humanitarian crisis gripping much of the country, where the UN says over one million are homeless and a total of 2.5 million in need of help.
The UN refugee agency said the flow of refugees fleeing the fighting had jumped, with 202,500 people registering in neighboring countries.
Neighboring Lebanon was rattled again by new fighting on Friday between rival pro-and anti-Assad communities in the northern city of Tripoli, with 14 people killed since Monday, adding to fears of a spillover of the Syria conflict.
In the day's bloodiest single attack in Syria, 21 people including 12 women and a child were killed in an air and artillery strike in Mayadin that levelled at least one residential building, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The Observatory has a network of activists on the ground but its information cannot be independently confirmed.
It also reported heavy shelling on several districts of Aleppo, scene of the fiercest fighting since the conflict first entangled the commercial and manufacturing hub a month ago, as well as Daraa, the northwestern province of Idlib and Hama in the centre.
Rebels said they were digging in for a war of attrition in Aleppo, where the regime had warned last month of "the mother of all battles".
"We don't have enough weapons, they (the Syrian army) don't have enough men," said one rebel fighter calling himself Abu Haidar.
Both the government and opposition forces say attacks on Aleppo province are aimed at cutting arms supply routes to the rebels in Syria's second city, once a thriving metropolis of 2.7 million people but now largely in ruins.
Rebels claimed earlier this week to control 60 percent of Aleppo but the regime has dismissed the claims and said Thursday the army had recaptured three Christian neighborhoods, where residents are largely pro-Assad.
In another macabre development, at least 50 unidentified bodies were found in the past 24 hours, mainly in Aleppo and Damascus, the Observatory said. Most were found with their hands bound and shot in the head.
Government troops have also waged fierce onslaughts on the southern outskirts of Damascus this week in what activists said was a renewed bid to crush the insurgency in the capital "once and for all".
On Friday, activists reported that troops had stormed and shelled several areas including the town of Daraya which lies to the south of Damascus.
"Fear is everywhere," said a Damascus resident and anti-regime activist who gave her name as Samara.
The Local Coordination Committees, a large activist network, meanwhile, said prominent Syrian film producer Orwa Nyrabia had disappeared and was feared arrested, but its report could not be confirmed independently.
An American freelance journalist, Austin Tice, has also been missing for more than a week, his latest employer the Washington Post said.
Amid a flurry of diplomatic moves, France said it would consider backing a partial no-fly zone, a proposal being studied by Washington, although US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday it was "not on the frontburner right now."
Ahead of the Brahimi-Ban meeting, Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad said Damascus was ready to work with the new international envoy and voiced hope he could pave the way for "national dialogue."
Another minister said this week the regime was "ready to discuss" Assad's departure as part of any negotiated solution.