SYRIAN fighter jets fired on civilians fleeing a regime offensive on rebel positions close to the Lebanese border, witnesses said yesterday, despite appeals by the United Nations to allow refugees safe passage.
Streams of refugees fled across the border from the town of Yabroud, a rebel-held staging post north-west of the capital Damascus, which has been under bombardment for days.
The UN warned that a ground attack was "imminent" and said the Syrian government had a duty to protect non-combatants as well as captured fighters.
"We are deeply concerned that the attack on Yabroud may follow the pattern of previous attacks," Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, said.
"Government aerial bombardments were indiscriminate and disproportionate in violation of obligations under international law and ensuing land incursions resulted in heavy civilian casualties."
As thousands of civilians fled across the border to the town of Aarsal on the Lebanese side, they said they had come under attack from MiG fighter jets and helicopters.
"I came here on my motorbike with my wife and our two infant children," said Abu Mohammed, (43). "The Syrian jet fired more than a dozen rockets on our road. We just escaped with our lives."
He was speaking from a dusty refugee camp just inside Lebanon. Other refugees corroborated his account. One elderly man who gave his name as Abu Ibrahim said shrapnel from a bomb had come "within 20 metres".
An Aarsal resident, Abu Hussain, who helped to ferry survivors from another attack across the border to hospital, said: "Three days ago jets bombed two pick-up trucks that were full of refugees in the back. They narrowly missed but four people were killed and many others were wounded.
"There are several routes to Aarsal and this week, every day the regime has bombed one of them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)