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Syrian refugee numbers top half a million

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Al-Arabiya

Syrian refugee numbers are dramatically mounting, with the U.N. refugee body on Tuesday announcing that more than half a million Syrians are now registered or awaiting registration in neighboring countries and North Africa.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had either registered or was in the process of registering 509,550 Syrians in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and North Africa

"And these numbers are currently climbing by more than 3,000 a day," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

As of Monday, there were 154,387 Syrian refugees registered or in the process of being registered in Lebanon, 142,664 in Jordan, 136,319 in Turkey, 64,449 in Iraq and 11,740 in North Africa, according to the UNHCR.

"In addition to those already registered or awaiting registration, most of these neighboring countries and North Africa also have large numbers of Syrians who have yet to come forward and seek help," Fleming said.

Jordan, she pointed out, estimates there are some 100,000 Syrians in the country who are not registered, while Turkey says more than 70,000 Syrians are living outside its 14 camps.

Since the violence erupted in March 2011, more than 42,000 people have been killed in Syria, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Lebanon is now host to 154,387 registered Syrian refugees who have fled the 20-month-old conflict, Jordan has 142,664, Turkey 136,319, Iraq 65,449 and North Africa 11,740, the UNHCR said.

In addition, large numbers of Syrians have crossed into neighboring countries but have not yet come forward to register for refugee status and assistance, it said. They include, 70,000 each in both Turkey and Egypt and tens of thousands in Lebanon, it said, citing government estimates.

U.S. set to boost ties with Syrian opposition

The Obama administration is getting ready to tighten its ties to Syria's main opposition group, a step in the intensifying diplomacy that officials hope will craft an end to Syrian President Bashar Assad's embattled regime.

Officials say the administration is on track to recognize the new Syrian opposition council as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people at an international conference on the crisis in Morocco this week.

The move will pave the way for greater U.S. support for those seeking to oust Assad and follows the blacklisting of a militant Syrian rebel group with links to al-Qaida. That step is aimed at blunting the influence of extremists amid fears that the regime may use or lose control of its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had been due to attend Wednesday's meeting in the Moroccan city of Marrakech but canceled her trip because she was ill with a stomach virus, her spokesman, Philippe Reines, said. Instead, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will lead the U.S. delegation.

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