Syrian refugees describe violent crackdown, sectarian clashes
Syrian refugees from a Sunni village near Homs have taken shelter in a Lebanese border town. But their hosts are deeply uneasy about the unrest roiling Lebanon's powerful neighbor.
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“There are many wounded people in the village but the army won’t let them out to be treated so they are dying in their houses. Soldiers and the shabiha walk the streets shooting at anyone they can see,” says Ahmad, who is staying with relatives in Knaysse.Skip to next paragraph
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Knaysse residents describe ties with Syrian soldiers
Knaysse lies in a hammer-shaped enclave poking eastward into Syria and is surrounded on three sides by the border. The village consists of a few homes built from blocks of black basalt. Basalt boulders litter the surrounding arid plain and the strong hot wind whips up clouds of dark gray dust. A few hundred yards south of the village is a newly established Syrian army encampment, the white canvas tents a clear contrast to the drab monotone landscape.
Residents of Knaysse and the neighboring village of Wadi Khaled say Syrian Army deserters are in the area, but they are in hiding out of concern that they will be arrested by the Lebanese authorities and transferred back to Syria.
In calmer times, the residents of Knaysse can enter Syria via one of the many informal border crossings manned by Syrian troops to purchase staple household goods such as bread and rice, which are cheaper than in Lebanon. While Syrian authorities try to act against the endemic smuggling along the border, they turn a blind eye to local residents crossing over to visit residents or do a little shopping.
“The soldiers tell us we can buy what we want but must not smuggle diesel fuel into Lebanon or guns into Syria,” says Ali, a portly figure in a white dishdash and red-and-white keffiyah wrapped around his head. Ali, who along with other residents did not want to be named, sat on a cushion on the floor of a large unfurnished room and chatted to several other elders who had gathered in his home.
They discussed the dramatic events of the previous night when Syrian troops had opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades just a few hundreds yards from their homes.
“The bullets were hitting our homes and we turned off the lights and hid on the floor,” says Ali.
He and his guests say that the gun battle was between Syrian troops and a group of Syrian diesel-fuel smugglers during which one of the gang members was killed.
'So long as the regime exists we cannot go back'
But the Syrians from Heet tell a different version of the story.
“They were not smugglers. They were citizens trying to cross the border when they were attacked. One of them was killed and he is being buried today in Heet,” says Mustafa.
Meanwhile, the few hundred residents of Heet taking refuge in Knaysse and surrounding villages, say they have no intention of returning home for the time being.
“So long as the regime exists we cannot go back because they will kill us all,” says Ahmad.