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Wounded Syrian refugees describe firefight, siege

Most of the Syrian refugees recovering in a Lebanese hospital are from small towns near the border. Their stories illustrate the perils facing many Syrians as Assad's regime cracks down.

By Correspondent / December 20, 2011

Wounded Syrian refugees take part in a protest, organized by Lebanese and Syrians in solidarity with Syria's antigovernment protesters, in the port city of Tripoli, northern Lebanon, Dec. 16.

Omar Ibrahim/Reuters


Tripoli, Lebanon

A small charity-run medical center in this northern Lebanese city is quietly providing healthcare to a rising number of Syrians, civilians and combatants alike, who have been wounded in the nine-month confrontation against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

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Many of those recovering in here are from Qusayr, a town of some 44,000 residents lying five miles north of Lebanon and close to the flashpoint city of Homs. Their accounts paint a grim portrait of a town under siege by Syrian security forces with no electricity, no telephone communications, and dwindling food supplies – illustrating the perils that many Syrians face as the Assad regime cracks down on an increasingly violent uprising.

Abu Ahmad, an engineer’s assistant, was hit in both legs by machine gun bullets when leaving a mosque after prayers to join in a demonstration.

“They shot at us as we coming out of the mosque. I was hit by three bullets in the legs,” the thickly bearded man says, lying in his hospital bed. “We were only asking for our freedom, but they consider us terrorists.”

Bystanders attempted to give him medical assistance but he had to wait for four hours until it grew dark before he could risk the journey to the Lebanese border. The bullets had shattered a knee cap and a bone.

“They gave me painkillers and wrapped me in a blanket and placed me the back of a truck. We moved from village to village in the darkness and then crossed the border where the Red Cross was waiting for me,” he says.

Safety concerns even in Lebanon

A floor of the Tripoli hospital has been turned over to Syrian casualties who are forced to undertake the hazardous journey across the border with Lebanon that is patrolled by army troops and laced with land mines.

“We are receiving a lot of people. The rate of casualties is increasing,” says Abu Bashir, a volunteer who helps coordinate the treatment of casualties and, like others interviewed for this article, used a pseudonym due to the sensitive nature of the center’s work.

Indeed, the refugees are not guaranteed safety even once they cross the border.

Syria exerts a pervasive influence in Lebanon through a network of Damascus-backed allies and a sympathetic government in Beirut. Several Syrians have been abducted in Lebanon since the uprising began in mid-March, and anti-Assad regime activists are forced to live in hiding, moving from one safe house to another.

Some 5,000 Syrian refugees are scattered across northern Lebanon, many forced to rent accommodation or stay with friends and relatives given the lack of assistance from the Lebanese state. Turkey, in contrast, has established a number of camps along its southern border with Syria – where as many as 12,000 Syrian refugees have crossed – and is catering to the needs of those remaining in the country.

Escaping Syrian soldiers

Most of the casualties being treated at the medical center are from Syrian towns and villages which, like Qusayr, lie close to the Lebanon-Syria border.

Fawzi, a young ironsmith from Tel Kalakh, two miles north of Lebanon, was shot in both arms two months ago by Syrian security forces who burst into his home after he had returned from an anti-regime protest.

“They pushed their way in past my mother, told me to raise my arms in the air and one of them fired four bullets from his rifle into my arms. After I fell to the ground, they stomped me with their boots,” he says.

Faisal, a thin wide-eyed 24-year-old from Qusayr, recalls an incident in November when he and several of his friends were trying to escape Syrian soldiers who were conducting house-to-house searches.


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