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Middle East

As thousands flee Syria, Assad denies civil war claims


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied there was a civil war in his country as the number of refugees fleeing the conflict surged, and some so desperate to leave they were climbing over razor wire fences.

United Nations refugee agency coordinator Panos Moumtzis said about 11,000 refugees fled the country in 24 hours after clashes in the Turkish border town of Ras al-Ain. The average number or refugees fleeing daily is between 2,000 and 3,000. Despite the chaos on his borders Assad took on his familiar obstinate tone.

"If the Syrian people are against me, how can I be here?" he said in an interview with Russia Today. "We do not have a civil war. It is about terrorism and the support coming from abroad to terrorists to destabilise Syria."

Syrian opposition groups in Doha remained locked in fraught negotiations over how to form a more representative body which could form the basis of a transitional government. After voicing fierce opposition to the new initiative earlier in the week, there was hope the Syrian National Council, which stands to be superseded, would reach a compromise yesterday, though talks were expected to last well into the night.

Western governments say that a more unified transitional body would enable them to channel more robust support to the rebels, as the conflict enters its 20th month.

"It's hard work at the moment nothing is for certain," said a senior Western diplomat in Doha. "There are mixed opinions [among the SNC] but there seems to be a momentum towards coming to an agreement."