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At least 70,000 people have been killed and millions forced out of their homes. In Geneva, the U.N. refugee agency said the number of Syrian refugees has surpassed the 1.5 million mark.

Over the past year Syria has gradually descended into lawlessness, with a spike of kidnappings in largely rebel-controlled northern Syria as well as the government-held capital. Residents blame criminal groups that have ties to both the regime and the opposition for the abductions of wealthy residents traveling to Syria from neighboring Turkey and Lebanon.

At a glance

U.N. says Syrian refugees top 1.5 million

The U.N. refugee agency says the number of Syrian refugees has surpassed the 1.5 million mark.

Agency spokesman Dan McNorton says that since this figure reflects only those who have registered with authorities, it “sadly means the actual number is much higher.”

He told reporters Friday that the agency has registered close to 1 million refugees just since the start of this year — from a country that had a population of 23 million — but many more Syrians have not registered due to safety and other concerns

He says that conditions have deteriorated rapidly in Syria during the past four months when compared to the previous 20 months of the conflict.

Most of the Syrians are fleeing to Jordan or Lebanon, each of which has more than 470,000 registered refugees.

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On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights expressed "grave concern" for two bishops who were abducted last month and have not been heard of since.

Gunmen pulled Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church from their car and killed their driver on April 22 while they were traveling outside the northern city of Aleppo. It was not clear who abducted the priests. No group has publically claimed it is holding the clerics.

According to the Britain-based activist group, the two were picked up at a checkpoint in Kfar Dael by Arabic-speaking foreign fighters believed to be from Chechnya.

In a statement, the Observatory called on both sides in the civil war to secure their release.

The group also said a suicide attacker blew up his car at an army checkpoint near the town of Tiba al-Imam in the central province of Hama, killing at least five soldiers. State news agency SANA said the bomber drove a tanker truck and that the attack killed two civilians and wounded four.

The Observatory and state media also reported clashes in the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising began, mostly in the town of Hirak. Syrian state TV said that among the rebels killed was a Jordanian citizen, known by the nom de guerre of Abu Zubair. It said he was a local commander of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is designated a terrorist group by the United States.


Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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