(MENAFN - Arab News) DAMASCUS/WASHINGTON: The number of refugees from the conflict in Syria now tops three million the UN said Friday as US President Barack Obama admitted he still has no strategy to tackle advancing militants.
UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres said Syria had become the 'biggest humanitarian emergency of our era' after a million people joined the exodus in the past year alone as Islamic State (IS) fighters seized swathes of the northeast.
Obama acknowledged that a decision had not been made on whether to launch air strikes against the militant group.
His comment during a White House news conference before a meeting of national security advisers about how to proceed against IS drew criticism from Republicans and a clarification from White House spokesman Josh Earnest. The militants have sown panic with a spate of atrocities executing more than 160 captured Syrian soldiers and an Iraqi Kurdish fighter over the past week.
The scale of the crisis facing the international community was further highlighted by the seizure by rival militants led by Al-Qaeda of 43 UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights.
The militants also surrounded another 75 peacekeepers from the Philippines triggering a tense standoff for the UN mission that has monitored an armistice between Syrian and Israeli troops on the strategic plateau for decades.
Dampening hopes of imminent air strikes in Syria Obama said he was still developing a comprehensive plan to defeat IS which has also overrun large swathes of neighboring Iraq.
The civil war in Syria has killed some 191000 people since it erupted in March 2011 with President Bashar Assad's bloody effort to put down an uprising.
But it has taken on another dimension as IS exploited the power vacuum to move in unleashing a series of atrocities that have shocked the world.
'We don't have a strategy yet' Obama said ahead of a meeting with security chiefs.
But he said he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to build support in the region against IS.
Washington has carried out air strikes in neighboring Iraq that have helped Kurdish forces to claw back some of the territory they lost to a renewed offensive by the militants earlier thimonth.
The Iraqi Kurdish leadership's military cooperation with the United States has infuriated the militants who posted grisly video footage on Thursday of their execution of a Kurdish fighter outside a mosque.
The video titled 'A message in blood to the leaders of the American-Kurdish alliance' also shows other captive Kurdish fighters warning that they risk the same fate if the cooperation continues the SITE Intelligence Group monitoring service said.
The prisoners were paraded in orange jumpsuits of the sort used at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay Cuba where hundreds of militants were interned during Washington's 'war on terror.'
The video comes hot on the heels of footage of scores of bodies heaped in the desert that IS boasted were those of Syrian soldiers it captured and killed following its seizure of a key air base last weekend.
The militants have also carried out a spate of executions of civilians from
religious minority groups in northern Iraq since they went back on the
UN chief Ban Ki-moon added his voice Friday to a chorus of international condemnation. 'Whole communities that had lived for generations in northern Iraq are being forced to flee or face death just for their religious beliefs' he said.
The International Organization for Migration said Friday that over 1.6 million Iraqis have been displaced this year more than 850000 of them this month alone.
'Most of the internally displaced had to walk for several days to reach safety' said the group's emergency coordinator for Iraq Brian Kelly. 'Many of their loved ones were killed or abducted by IS forces. Groups of people were reportedly forced by IS to jump off mountain cliffs while others were taken away to an uncertain fate.'
A UN-mandated probe has charged that public executions amputations lashings and mock crucifixions have also become a regular fixture in rebels-controlled areas of Syria.
Washington has so far baulked at cooperating with Assad's regime against IS.
Obama reiterated that position on Thursday saying: 'I don't think there's a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we've been seeing there.'