Syrian rebel refugees in Jordan nurse wounds and plan a fightback

"We do not want food or clothes. We want arms," says one Syrian rebel fighter in Ramtha, a hub for anti-regime activists crossing the border with the help of relatives and friends.

RAMTHA, JORDAN // As the four Syrian rebels who had fled from Deraa shared a late breakfast, their eyes were fixed on the television. They flipped from one channel to another, watching the violence unfold in their country.

The conversation at their rented home in this town on Jordan's border with Syria shifted from concerns about relatives to the horrors inflicted upon fellow Syrians.

But the discussion kept returning to one issue: their all-consuming desire to return to Syria and fight President Bashar Al Assad's forces.

"We do not want food or clothes. We want arms," said one 39-year-old, who left Deraa two months ago. "Assad is sending Hizbollah to kill us. They are killing everyone. Everyone is a wanted man in Deraa."

While it is impossible to verify claims that Hizbollah and Iran are helping to suppress the uprising, the security forces of Mr Al Assad's regime have stepped up their assaults in Homs, Hama and Deraa in a bid to wipe out the wellsprings of the 11-month uprising. At the same time, pressure is building on governments in the region and other outside parties to supply weapons to his opponents.

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo last weekend all but endorsed such aid, passing a resolution urging Arabs to "provide all kinds of political and material support" to the opposition.

If the willingness to provide arms to Mr Al Assad's opponents gains momentum, most of the evidence will be in border towns such as Ramtha.

A well known transit point for smuggling food and cigarettes, Ramtha has become a hub for anti-regime activists crossing the border with the help of relatives and friends.

For the men who have fled the violence in their country, Jordan is a temporary stop. They speak passionately about returning home and fighting the government forces.

"We cannot stay here any more," said another rebel, a 29-year old, who was shot in the left hand two months ago as he was heading to a protest.

His hand still feels numb after a rushed operation to remove the bullet. "I can hardly move my fingers. The nerve has been damaged," he said. "We were among the first people in Deraa to take up arms and help the army defectors. We cannot stay here and watch."

All the men who spoke to The National declined to give their names, fearful that their families in Syria would be targeted by the security forces.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are more than 3,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan. Local media put the number of refugees at between 5,000 and 15,000, including army defectors, who are housed in a military compound in Al Salt, north-west of Amman.

Another rebel, a 34-year-old who helps the Free Syrian Army, a force fighting the government forces, joined the refugees in Jordan this month and is waiting for his family to join him.

"I am wanted dead or alive," he said. "I've been distributing medical aid to nearby villages.

"Life is becoming sectarian, and the killings are based on identity. I am going to stay here and coordinate with the rebels.

"We have been working like a beehive. The only difference is that the beehive has a queen to rule, but here we listen to each other and there is no one to rule us."

Although they all claim to bear the scars from the torture inflicted upon them by Syrian security forces, the men insist their will to fight has endured.

"If I have weapons, I will not stay a minute here," said a retired police officer who was arrested twice and tortured for his involvement in the protests.

While he was in prison, he was injected with what he believes were "oil shots" in his lower back that nearly paralysed him.

"It was 5.30 in the morning during Ramadan when I saw four buses and two cars with nearly 50 men who came to arrest me. They besieged my house, destroyed the wall outside, blindfolded my eyes and forced me to the bus. They beat me on my head with their guns and kicked me and hurled insults."

He was tortured with what is known as the tyre technique, in which prisoners are immobilised inside a rubber tyre with their hands and feet tied and hung upside down. He was also beaten with electric rods.

Other prisoners, he said, had their bodies strapped to a wooden board that was bent upwards until they heard a cracking sound.

Another rebel fled to Jordan in December after being shot three times in the left thigh while he was trying to assist a wounded protester. He underwent surgery in a makeshift hospital and a medical rod was inserted in his leg.

In November, Syrian forces stormed into his house in the early hours while he was in hiding. "They harassed my wife, removed the top of her nightgown and said, 'Tell your husband we saw your breasts'."

Four days later, government troops came to the house again and threatened to rape her, record it and put the video on the internet. "She took the kids and fled," he said. "When they returned they didn't find anyone, so they burned the house.

"People in Deraa are living a tragedy. When we hear about the Free Syrian Army's successes, we all yearn to return."

smaayeh@thenational.ae

Published: February 17, 2012 04:00 AM

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