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Syrian refugees describe gangs fomenting sectarian strife

Syrian refugees who fled across the Lebanese border today say a sectarian war has emerged, as gangs affiliated with President Assad's minority Alawite sect arrest and kill Sunnis.

By Correspondent / May 17, 2011

Syrian men, fleeing the violence in Syria, walk through the unofficial crossing that leads to the Lebanese border village of Debbabiyeh, northern Lebanon near the Lebanese-Syrian border, on Tuesday, May 17.

Omar Ibrahim/Reuters


Arida, Lebanon-Syria border

The four Syrian men came up the river bank, panting with exertion and fear, trousers rolled up, legs glistening wet, carrying heavy suitcases on their backs as they crossed into Lebanon.

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“Quickly, move along. There are snipers shooting this way,” urges a Lebanese soldier, motioning the four across an exposed stretch of road within clear view of houses on the Syrian side of the narrow Kabir river.

The four men were the latest refugees to flee from Tel Kalakh, a Sunni-populated town lying two miles west of this village that straddles the border (see map). Syrian security forces and regime loyalists are engaged in a bloody crackdown that residents say is turning into a sectarian war between Sunnis and Alawites, the minority Shiite offshoot that forms the backbone of the regime.

Since Saturday, thousands of residents of the besieged town have slipped into Lebanon, some braving sniper fire to cross the small stone bridge at Arida, others creeping through the rugged stony hills to find fordable reaches of the Kabir River. The refugees are bringing with them tales of bloodshed and terror that, if true, offer rare glimpses into the uncompromising measures used by the Syrian security forces to crush a two-month rebellion that has shaken the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The bullets were falling on us like rain. The children were terrified,” says one young woman wearing a black niqab, a face covering worn by devout Muslim women. The refugees interviewed refused to give their names for security reasons.

“They are killing all the Muslims,” she added. “They are destroying the mosques so that we cannot gather to pray and demonstrate.”

Sunnis targeted by Alawite militiamen

Several refugees described seeing people getting their throats cut in the street by gangs of black uniformed “Shabiha” Alawite militiamen. They said some of the Shabiha militiamen in Tel Kalakh were dispatched from Qordaha, an Alawite town in western Syria that is the ancestral home of the Assad family and consequently a staunch bastion of support for the regime.

In a chilling echo of the early stages in Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, they said that the Shabiha militiamen were stopping people in the street and checking their identity cards for potential victims.

“If they see he’s a Sunni from his family name, they take him away and kill him,” the woman in the niqab said. “They destroyed the Omar bin Khattab mosque because it is named after a companion of the Prophet Mohammed and dear to Sunnis. What we have here is a sectarian war between the Alawites and Sunnis.”


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