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UN: 40,000 flee heavy fighting in eastern Syria

Tens of thousands of Syrians leave al-Shaddadeh after clashes between rebels and government forces in the oil-producing area.

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THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN ON A GUIDED GOVERNMENT TOUR Syrian soldiers raise their weapons while holding a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as they leave the eastern Syrian city of Deir Zor fon August 16, 2011. (-stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations' World Food Program said about 40,000 people have fled heavy fighting in east Syria.

The men, women and children left the town of al-Shaddadeh for al-Hasakah city after three days of clashes between rebels and government forces in the oil-producing area, Reuters reported.

An estimated 30 rebels and some 100 Syrian government troops have been killed, according to Reuters.

"The fighting and displacement only aggravates the misery of these people," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.

Byrs said the UN agency sent extra food rations this week to the area and that there is rampant malnutrition among children as a result of a long running drought, Reuters said.

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Activists said another 150 people were killed in recent days during clashes near the international airport close to Aleppo, the Associated Press reported.

The battle for and around Syria's largest city is of key strategic importance to both rebels and government forces.

On the diplomatic front, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he will try and persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power to pave the way for the nation's political transition,the New York Times reported.

It will be his first international trip as Secretary of State, with expected stops in Europe and the Middle East, the Times said.

“I believe there are additional things that can be done to change his current perception,” Kerry said. “My goal is to see us change his calculation.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/130215/un-40000-flee-heavy-fighting-east-syria