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Thousands Of Syrians Ride Buses To Refugee Camps


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

Syria has accused Israel of flagrantly violating international law after a series of airstrikes on targets near the Syrian capital over the weekend. Now, Israel has not officially accepted responsibility, but Israeli sources say the targets included Iranian-made missiles bound for Hezbollah fighters in neighboring Lebanon.

As the civil war rages on inside Syria, the rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad have made significant gains in the southern part of the country. Rebels now control most of the border crossings into Jordan - which is one of the main exit points for thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war.

NPR's Deborah Amos drove up to the Syrian border and she sent this report.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Our guide on the highway north is Andrew Harper. He heads the U.N. refugee operation here. He points out the busses filled with Syrians heading to Jordan's refugee camps, as we approach the Syrian border.

ANDREW HARPER: If you have two to three thousand people that cross - so you're talking about 30 or 40 bus trips.

AMOS: And that's every day?

HARPER: Every day and every night.

AMOS: And those numbers are rising - to add to the half million already in Jordan. Just a few months ago, Syrian soldiers would shoot at fleeing families crossing in the dark. Now Syrians come by day, in taxis or in pick-up trucks, says Harper.

HARPER: Given that the opposition has gained control of more and more territory on the border, they're actually able to drive relatively close to the border now and get dropped off.

AMOS: The Jordanian military waves us through to the meeting place for the newly arrived.

HARPER: They walk to here - and so you can see hundreds of refugees under the olive groves there, and this is what is terrifying because there's just so many kids.

AMOS: Harper is here to find out about the battles across the border. The fighting determines refugee flows. He also wants to know how many Syrians are returning home.

In April, some 10,000 headed back after rebels took the town of Dael in southern Syria and opened a road to this border.

In a tent crowded with Syrian families, the stories come all at once. Most are from the town of Jassim, north of Dael, where rebels and regime loyalists are still fighting. One young mother from Jassim, who wouldn't give her name, said an artillery shell hit her home. She packed up the kids two days ago for the bleak life of a refugee in Jordan.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through translator) It's true that over there in Syria we are dying a fast death, but here in Jordan we are going to be dying a slow one, but this is the way it is.

AMOS: Some are going back, but it's still too dangerous for most - even in the rebel held town of Dael, says Yasser. He went back to check it out but decided it wasn't safe.

Do you see people coming back to Dael?

YASSER: (Through translator) Yes, some people are coming back because it's liberated.

AMOS: And are they staying or they just coming to check their houses, like you?

YASSER: (Through translator) Some people are staying and leave their fate with God.

AMOS: Harper says it's a common story, most who go back end up making a round trip.

HARPER: We do have people who do go back to check on elderly parents who refuse to leave, despite the conflict, to check on their livestock, their property. Some people go back to the towns and villages to see whether it's actuallysafe or not.

AMOS: But even the rebels don't encourage them to stay. There's no food, no water or electricity in rebel held areas.

HARPER: The lack of support and assistance that's going on in places like southern Syria just means that people will continue to move towards Jordan, because that's where we are providing assistance.

AMOS: So far Jordan has blocked large scale humanitarian aid into southern Syria. But Jordan is backing the rebels by hosting military training camps, according to Western officials and rebels interviewed in Amman. For Jordan, reversing the refugee flows is urgent, says analyst Mohammed Abu Rumman.

MOHAMMED ABU RUMMAN: It is a goal, or target, to Jordanian government to create a new situation in the southern area of Syria to avoid a huge crisis with the refugees. This is what Jordanian now are looking for.

AMOS: It's a gamble, that as the rebels gain more territory, Syrian civilians will risk staying home rather than endure Jordan's refugee camps in the soaring summer heat. Southern Syria may become the most important front in the war.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Amman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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