- Associated Press - Friday, November 9, 2012

BEIRUT — At least 11,000 Syrians poured into neighboring countries in a single day, U.N. officials said Friday, in a dramatic surge in the exodus of refugees fueled by heavy battles between regime forces and rebels for control of a border town.

Some of the refugees desperately clambered over razor-wire border fences to reach safety in Turkey, fleeing one of the heaviest battlegrounds — the town of Ras al-Ayn, where rebels seized security compounds of the regime’s most powerful intelligence agencies and regime forces pounded rebels with shelling.

The flood of people was “the highest that we have had in quite some time,” said Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. refugee agency’s regional coordinator for the region.

The escalation — much more than the average 2,000 to 3,000 Syrians fleeing daily — brings the number of Syrian refugees registered with the agency to more than 408,000, he said.

Even as the turmoil worsened, Syrian President Bashar Assad said he had no regrets over his regime’s crackdown in the 19-month-old uprising against his rule. In an interview with Russian television, he said there was no civil war in Syria, insisting that he was protecting Syrians against “terrorism” supported from abroad.

Syria’s conflict began largely as peaceful protests against Assad’s rule, but it has since collapsed into civil war after rebels took up arms in response to the regime’s bloody crackdown. Rebels have driven regime forces out of much of a pocket of northwestern Syria and battle troops in several large cities and in towns around the country, even as the fight takes on dangerous sectarian tones between a mainly Sunni opposition and a regime dominated by Assad’s minority Allawite sect.

More than 36,000 people have been killed in the violence since March 2011, according to activists.

During the 24-hour flood of refugees that began Thursday, 9,000 Syrians fled in to Turkey — including 70 who were wounded and two who then died, U.N. officials said. Jordan and Lebanon each absorbed another 1,000 refugees.

The largest flow into Turkey came from the fighting at Ras al-Ayn in the predominantly Kurdish northerneastern province of al-Hasaka. The town hugs the border, practically adjacent to the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.

On Thursday, rebels captured a border crossing between the two towns, Ceylanpinar’s mayor, Ismail Aslan, told The Associated Press by telephone.

The next day, rebels overran three security compounds in the town belonging to the Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence and General Intelligence Directorate agencies, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group.

More than 20 soldiers were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.

Regime forces shelled rebel positions on Friday morning, Ceylanpinar’s mayor said. Regime tanks were also moving into the area to join the fight, according to another opposition activist group, the Local Coordination Committees.

Turkey’s Anadolu Agency video footage showed Syrians jumping over and climbing through the razor-wiree fence that makes up part of the 911-kilometer (566-mile) border, to cross into Ceylanpinar.

Others fled into Turkey further west along the border, trying to escape fighting at the Syrian town of Harem in Idlib province, which has been the scene of intensified battles in recent days.

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