OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is heading to the Middle East on Friday to meet Lebanon’s prime minister and tour a refugee camp in Jordan.
Baird’s office says the continuing violence in Syria will be a major topic of discussion when he meets on Friday with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and opposition leader Fouad Siniora in Beirut.
Baird travels to the region at a time of fierce fighting between government troops and rebels in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and financial hub.
Aleppo has been under heavy fire from tanks, helicopter gunships and warplanes for two weeks now as President Bashar Assad’s regime tries to break the rebel grip on one of its strongholds.
The United Nations estimates more than 78,000 people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan to escape the bloodshed.
Baird will tour one such camp on Saturday in Jordan, where he and his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh will make an announcement.
“The situation grows increasingly difficult as refugees continue to flow over Syria’s borders into neighbouring countries,” Baird said in a release.
“The situation in Syria threatens the stability of the entire Middle East,” he added.
Jordan recently opened the Zaatari refugee camp near the city of Mafraq, a desert outpost 80 kilometres north of the capital Amman, where temperatures have soared as high as 45 degrees Celsius.
The UN refugee agency says some 10,000 Syrians had been living in four overcrowded transit centres near the Jordan-Syria border, with as many as 1,500 new refugees arriving each night.
Activists say upwards of 21,000 people have been killed since a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters began in March 2011.