Syrian refugees find peace from repeated shelling … in Iraq
AT A bare concrete building on the western edge of Iraq, hundreds of Syrian refugee families wait in the shade, anxious to find out where they will spend the night after fleeing their homeland.
Many of them had come from the Syrian town of Albu Kamal and said Syrian rebel forces escorted them along the four miles of road to the main border gate with Iraq.
Albu Kamal was captured by rebel forces last week in a push to seize Syria’s international border crossings. Government forces have been trying to wrest back control, firing shells and rockets on the town, they said.
“When we woke up there was shelling. When we went to sleep there was shelling,” Jamil Rafea al-Mahmoud, 34, said as he waited for Iraqi border control to process his papers.
“I am very upset at leaving my house, my neighbourhood, my people, but what can I do? The Syrian people, we do not have anywhere to go but this safer place, Iraq,” he said, without a hint of irony.
That Syrians are willing to cross the border despite bomb attacks across Iraq this week shows just how bad the situation back home has become.
Syrian refugees entered the desert border crossing point near the western Iraqi town of Al-Qaim on pick-up trucks or on Iraqi government buses as part of a convoy.
Around 500 Syrians were already waiting at a camp for the refugees at the customs building, in an area surrounded by blast walls and coils of barbed wire.
Syria’s 16-month-old uprising has been transformed from an insurgency in remote provinces into a battle for control of the two main cities, Aleppo and Damascus, where fighting broke out last week. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have counter-attacked strongly.
About 50 Iraqi military trucks carrying troops, tanks and guns hurtled towards Al-Qaim on the road from eastern Iraq late on Tuesday this week to reinforce the border.
“We left Albu Kamal because Bashar’s army slit throats and killed my relatives,” said Nassra Abdul Hallim, 49, who was seated with a group of veiled women and children.
“We drove behind the Free Army to the border and they opened the road for us,” she said.
Next to her sat an older woman dressed in black, who held a limp, pale baby she said was exhausted from the journey.
Children slept on the floor or on top of piles of luggage as Red Crescent workers handed out watermelons and drinks in the 45C heat. Iraqi authorities were setting up tents nearby for Syrians who have no relatives to stay with.
“The situation is very, very dangerous in Deir al-Zor, there are attacks every single day,” said Hussam Mohammed, 34, who was surrounded by his family as children screamed and ran through the crowds of adults.
Syrians in his city, around 100 miles from the Iraqi border, fear government forces more than the Free Syrian Army (FSA), he said. Across the border, the rebels had painted a large mural of the FSA flag on a building.
Mr Mohammed added: “They are shooting at each other and the people are just the victims.”
Iraq, whose desert province of Anbar, a Sunni Muslim region, borders Syria, is nervous about the impact of the conflict in its neighbour where mainly Sunni rebels are fighting to end Mr Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime.
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