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GENEVA - EU's aid chief called for urgent action on Wednesday to protect countries bordering Syria from spillover amid news of violent clashes in Lebanon’s flashpoint city of Tripoli.
"We cannot turn the clock back on Syria, on the tragedy that has happened there, but we still might be able to protect against the flares going into the neighbourhood," humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told reporters in Geneva.
Warning that there was "no end in sight" to the more than two-year conflict in Syria that has left more than 90,000 people dead and has forced more than 1.5 million to flee the country, she cautioned that "day by day there is an increased danger of the neighbourhood... being absorbed by the flames of the fire."
At least 11 people have died and more than 100 been wounded in three days of Syria-related clashes in Lebanon's flashpoint city of Tripoli, a security source said on Wednesday.
Fighting between Sunni and Alawite residents of the city was continuing for a fourth day on Wednesday but clashes had become more sporadic, the source said.
A correspondent said large parts of the city of 500,000 people were shut down on Wednesday, with schools and shops closed after a night of fierce clashes.
Two Lebanese soldiers were among the dead, the source said, and at least 10 of the wounded were military personnel deployed to try to calm the violence that broke out on Sunday.
Fighting on Tuesday alone killed five people, with the violence extending outside the usual flashpoint neighbourhoods of Bab el-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen.
Clashes have often pitted residents of Sunni Bab el-Tebbaneh against those from the neighbouring Alawite area of Jabal Mohsen.
Violence has regularly broken out in the city since the beginning of the uprising in Syria.
The largely Sunni town is home to a small community of Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
The latest violence began as the Assad regime launched an assault on the rebel stronghold of Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon.
EU's aid chief, who has held her position for nearly four year and who recently returned from a trip to Jordan and Lebanon, insisted that "in my years as commissioner... I have seen many risks... but this is the biggest danger, for the people affected but also in terms of spillover risks for the region, for Europe and for the world."
The world, she said, should urgently "mobilise development funding and macro-economic stabilisers for the region."
She pointed out that with refugee numbers continuing to surge, some host communities are beginning to show signs of hostility.
"Especially in the areas... where refugees already outnumber the local populations, there is definitely a strain," she said.
The flood of refugees has already increased the populations of Jordan and Lebanon by between 10 and 15 percent, and that could rise to as much as 40 percent if the influx continues, she said.
This means more people competing for an already limited supply of jobs, housing, water, school and medical services, Georgieva added.
Earlier this month, the United States and Russia, which back opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, proposed a peace conference dubbed Geneva 2 to bring together rebels and representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Georgieva said a political solution was the only way "to stop this madness", but cautioned that people in the region were pessimistic.
"Some of the leaders in the region would say it would take a Geneva 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 before a solution can be reached," she said, though she insisted that it was still necessary to push ahead.
"We know from history that even the bloodiest of wars, in the end, need to be sent to history through a political agreement."