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Record number of Syrian refugees in Jordan

A Syrian removes water and mud from around his tent at the Zaatari refugee camp on January 9, 2013
A Syrian removes water and mud from around his tent at the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Syrian border with Jordan in Mafraq, on January 9, 2013. Jordan's King Abdullah II has called on the international community to increase its assistance for the tide

A record number of Syrian refugees have flooded neighbouring Jordan over the past 24 hours, the UN said on Friday as violence raged unabated in several flashpoints across the strife-torn country.

More than 6,400 refugees have arrived in Jordan since Thursday, the UN refugee agency said, bringing to over 30,000 the number of arrivals since the start of the month.

Jordan's King Abdullah II said global support for the refugees both in his country and in Lebanon was "desperately needed."

"The weakest refugees are struggling now just to survive this year's harsh winter. More international support is desperately needed," the king told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"I cannot emphasise enough the challenges that we are all facing, both in Jordan and Lebanon, and it's only going to get worse."

The past 24 hours have been dramatic for Jordan's main refugee camp, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in Geneva as she revealed a "record" number of arrivals.

"Only yesterday (Thursday), 4,400 Syrian refugees arrived in Zaatari camp, and a further 2,000 arrived during the course of the night," Fleming said.

"Staff in Zaatari are working day and night shifts to respond to the new arrivals and the growing needs of the refugees in the camp," she said.

She said most new arrivals were women, children and elderly and that three children died this week -- a two-year-old and a two-month-old who died shortly after arriving at the camp and a two-day-old baby after an emergency delivery.

Jordan's King Abdullah II attends a session of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos on January 25, 2013
Jordan's King Abdullah II attends a session of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, on January 25, 2013.

Fleming said the new arrivals bring the total population of the sprawling camp that opened last July to some 65,000 and that the UNHCR was working with Jordan to open a second camp by the end of the month.

The United Nations has predicted that the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries will double to 1.1 million by June if Syria's civil war -- which has killed more than 60,000 people since March 2011 -- does not end.

Speaking in Davos, experts warned that Syria's conflict was threatening to settle into a long and bloody war and calls were made for humanitarian assistance as well as weapons for the opposition.

"Today there are more than 60,000 dead... Can we wait until it's double that? Can we wait until it's triple that? This is a shame on all of us," said Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi spy chief.

He said the global community needed to support Syria's opposition against President Bashar al-Assad, including by supplying them with weapons.

On Syrian battlefields violence showed no sign of abating on Friday.

The air force launched air raids on several rebel-held towns, including in Damascus province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a broad network of activists, doctors and lawyers.

Activists reported an escalation of the army's fierce campaign to reclaim insurgent-held areas in Homs in central Syria, which lays on the strategic route linking Damascus to the sea.

In Homs city, the army shelled the Juret al-Shiyah and Khaldiyeh neighbourhoods, which have been bombarded frequently since the start of the anti-regime revolt in March 2011, said the Observatory.

At least 80 people were killed in Friday's violence, the Observatory said.

And while state-run SANA news agency said many Syrians heeded a call by the government and prayed for security on Friday, protesters in flashpoint areas demonstrated for Assad's fall.

Amateur video shot in Houla, in Homs province, showed dozens of protesters on the streets despite army shelling.

Meanwhile in Saraqeb, in the northwestern province of Idlib, activists said protesters also demonstrated against the jihadist Al-Nusra Front rebel group which is listed by the United States as a "terrorist" organisation.

"No to the rule of foreigners, no to military rule, no to terror and fear," read posters held up by the protesters.