United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos says fighting between Syrian troops and rebels in the city of Aleppo has forced 200,000 people to flee the country's commercial hub and surrounding area over the past two days.
In a statement issued Sunday, Amos said many of the Aleppo refugees have sought shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer areas. She said the fighting is making it hard for humanitarian agencies to provide displaced residents with urgently needed food, mattresses, blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water.
Syrian activists said security forces fired tank shells and artillery against rebel positions in Aleppo Sunday, while the rebels held on to areas they captured in recent days, including the southwest district of Salaheddine.
Syrian state media said troops ousted rebels from Salaheddine, but there was no independent confirmation of either claim.
The battle for control of Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, is crucial for both the government and opposition.
The opposition Syrian National Council on Sunday urged the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency session on Aleppo, alleging that the government of President Bashar al-Assad is planning to commit a massacre there.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said the battles in Aleppo amount to "war crimes." In a statement published by Egyptian state news agency MENA, Elaraby also warned that the perpetrators of such crimes eventually will be punished.
Syrian opposition leader Abdulbaset Sieda of the Syrian National Council urged Western and Arab powers that support the uprising to send heavy weapons to the rebels.
Appeal for weapons
The Syrian opposition council's head, Abdel Basset Sayda, appealed to foreign backers for heavy weapons to help the opposition counter the government's superior firepower.
Visiting Abu Dhabi, the SNC chief said the rebels need weapons that can stop tanks and planes. He said that such supplies will "make Syrians able to defend themselves against this killing machine."
As the fighting raged, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem made a previously unannounced visit to Syria's staunch ally, Iran.
At a Tehran news conference, he asserted that what he called the "anti-Syrian forces" gathered in Aleppo to fight the government "will definitely be defeated."
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned about the consequences for the region and the world should the Assad government fall.
He said it is "naive" and "an illusion" to think that if there is a power vacuum in Syria and a transition of power, a new government could easily be established.
Pope Benedict appealed for an end to all violence and bloodshed in Syria and called on the international community to spare no effort to help find a just political solution to conflict.
Speaking at his summer retreat of Castel Gandolfo, the pope also asked Syria's neighbors to help refugees fleeing the violence and make sure they are given all necessary humanitarian assistance.
Jordan on Sunday opened its first official tent camp to help host the tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled their country.
The Zaatari camp is about 11 kilometers from the Syrian border in the Mafraq area.
Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judah says his country is now sheltering more than 142,000 Syrians. He says up to 2,000 more are arriving each day.
Turkey is sheltering more than 44,000 Syrians and is building three more camps, for a total of 10, to hold the growing number of refugees.
The United Nations says more than 17,000 people have been killed during Syria's conflict since March of last year.