Fleeing Syrian refugees tell of dodging bullets in orange grove
Abu Abbas is just one of an estimated 2,000 Syrian refugees to escape since the weekend to Lebanon, which is coming under increasing pressure to aid those fleeing Assad's brutal regime.
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Abu Abbas's family adds to the more than 7,000 refugees already registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.Skip to next paragraph
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“That is the number we are hearing, but we have teams doing an assessment in the Bekaa today,” says Dana Sleiman, spokeswoman in Lebanon for the UNHCR.
Most of the refugees have moved in with family and friends in Sunni-populated towns and villages in the Bekaa Valley.
In the remote town of Arsal in the eastern Bekaa, some 200 people have settled into private homes and are being cared for by the local community, according to Ali Hojeiri, the mayor.
“The people here are giving them food and shelter,” he says. “We have had no help from the government at all. It is difficult for us but the Syrians are welcome here.”
Dodging Syrian soldiers en route to safety
Abu Abbas has just returned from the border, where he is awaiting the arrival of his elderly and frail mother and father. He says that the latest information from Qusayr is that the Syrian Army has moved out of the town completely.
“We fear this means they are going to destroy the town over the heads of the people,” he says.
Abu Abbas and his family were one of five families to make the perilous trip from Qusayr to the Lebanese border. Although the distance is relatively short, they were forced to go by foot and take back roads and farm tracks to avoid Army checkpoints.
“We saw lots of soldiers and we had to keep hiding. It was very frightening,” says Khadija, his wife.
They crossed the border safely and hitched a ride to the nearby town of Jdeide, populated mainly by Sunnis and Christians. On reaching a mosque, they encountered a local resident, Ahmad, who on learning they had arrived from Syria offered to take them into his home.
Brutal militia in an orange grove
Now they worry about their relatives who remain behind in Qusayr. On Tuesday, Abu Abbas returned to the border and slipped across for a short distance to look for his parents.
“I was hiding in the orange trees but there were soldiers and Shabiha everywhere chasing people,” he says, referring to the mainly Alawite pro-regime militia. He said that he saw the Shabiha militiamen catch people and kill them on the spot.
“It was horrible. They were running after people and the moment they caught one, they would cut his throat immediately and leave the body on the ground,” he says. Abu Abbas added that he was so frightened, he headed back into Lebanon immediately.
It is impossible to verify his story, although similar claims have been repeatedly aired by Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
For now, like thousands of other refugees in Lebanon, Abu Abbas and his fmaily face an uncertain future, one that is dependent on future developments in Syria. Abu Abbas says there is no chance of returning to Syria until the collapse of Assad’s regime. His wife, Khadija, nods her head.
“We have run away from death,” she says. “You think we are in a hurry to run back to death?”
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria
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