UN says 200,000 have fled Aleppo fighting

Aleppo is Syria`s largest city and commercial hub with about three million inhabitants.

Beirut: The UN said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago.

The government forces turned mortars, tank and helicopter gunships against rebel positions on Monday, pressing ahead with a counter-offensive to wrest back control of neighbourhoods taken by rebels 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," Valerie Amos, the top UN official for humanitarian affairs, 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 UN 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 the combat.

"It is not known how many people remain trapped in places where fighting continues today," she warned. Aleppo is Syria`s largest city and commercial hub with about three million inhabitants.

Fleeing residents have described to a news agency 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.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said last night 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 heavily on the unfolding crisis in Syria.

Syrian state media reported yesterday that the Army had "purged" Aleppo`s southwestern neighbourhood of Salaheddine and inflicted "great losses" upon the rebels in one of the first districts they took control of in their bid to seize the city.

Activists, however, disputed these claims and just described another day of fierce shelling of certain areas, backed up by the occasional foray on the ground.

"They have tanks in nearby Hamdaniya and there is fighting, and there have been random bombardments of Salaheddine," said Mohammed Saeed, who is based in the embattled city.

While giving no indication that the Obama administration is contemplating military intervention, Panetta said it is increasingly clear that the Syrian crisis is deepening and that Assad is hastening his own demise.