The UN refugee agency said Tuesday that the increasingly dire security situation in Syria has forced it to pull staff out of an area previously considered safe, and is disrupting aid supplies.
"We are temporarily withdrawing staff from the northeastern Hasakeh governorate," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva, referring to an area on the Turkish border where deadly fighting has flared around the town of Ras al-Ain.
She said five aid workers would leave the area on Tuesday, leaving seven others to coordinate the relief effort.
Thousands of Syrians have fled the Ras al-Ain area since fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces flared last week. On Monday alone, at least 16 people were killed in air strikes and shelling of rebel positions, according to a rights watchdog monitoring the 20-month conflict.
In total, UNHCR has 350 staff in Syria working out of Damascus, the northern battleground of Aleppo and Hasakeh.
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"Even areas that used to be calm" are now affected by the fighting, Fleming said, adding that over the past two weeks many aid supplies had been lost, including 13,000 blankets that were destroyed by fire in an Aleppo warehouse apparently hit by a shell.
A truck carrying another 600 blankets was hijacked on its way to Adra outside Damascus, said Fleming, adding that it was unclear who was responsible.
Despite the setbacks, the aid agency expects to provide aid, including blankets, clothing and cooking kits, to some 500,000 people in the war-torn country by the end of the year.
The UN estimates that the number of Syrian refugees registered in neighbouring countries will likely leap from over 400,000 now to more than 700,000 by early 2013.
It has also calculated that at least 2.5 million people inside Syria are in need of emergency aid -- a number expected to soar to above four million by early next year.
Fleming said however that assessing exactly how many people needed help inside Syria was difficult since "95 percent" of internally displaced people have sought shelter with families.
"Some people have been internally displaced several times, people are on the run, hiding, and difficult to count and difficult to access."