Refugees from the burgeoning civil war in Syria who are reaching Lebanon are speaking of deepening "hatred" between Alawites and Sunnis, and one said: 'I think a civil war is coming; you can see it and feel it,'" the New York Times reported late Friday. -- "Alawites [are] talking about their fears of surviving while Sunnis burn with the desire for revenge," Neil MacFarquhar said. -- A young engineer said: “They are going to destroy the country, and they won’t be able to bring it back for another 20 years.” -- Many fleeing Damascus cannot get out of the country: "For everyone reaching Lebanon, there were hundreds more fleeing the capital into the Syrian countryside." -- Those who can are those who are better-off: "Many of those arriving were well-to-do young families." -- "Friday was also the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that combines fasting and celebration and family reunions. But for Syrians, the holiday spirit was distinctly lacking. 'We don’t really feel like it’s Ramadan because of this war,' Mr. Jazaeri said. 'It is going to the worst Ramadan in Syrian history, or at least the worst since the Ottomans invaded.'” -- Josh Rogin said on the Foreign Policy website that according to Kelly Clements, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for the bureau of population, refugees, and migration, "as of Thursday, between 117,000 and 125,000 refugees had fled Syria to seek refuge in neighboring countries and thousands more were pouring over the borders each day." -- But Beirut's Daily Star reported early Saturday that "The influx of Syrians crossing into Lebanon subsided Friday as the situation at the country’s eastern border crossing regained a sense of normalcy." -- "Syrians who entered Lebanon in the past few days mainly hail from Damascus and the surrounding areas, according to security sources," said Rakan al-Fakih. -- "The majority, however, refused to discuss the political situation in their country or be photographed by journalists." -- According to the Daily Star, it is the Damascus bourgeoisie that is fleeing: "middle-class and affluent Syrians, judging by their expensive cars and taxis." ...
SYRIANS FLEEING CAPITAL LEAVE BODIES AND BOMBS BEHIND
By Neil MacFarquhar
New York Times
July 20, 2012
MASNAA, Lebanon -- After five days of fierce street battles pitting government forces against rebel fighters in the central Damascus neighborhood of Midan, one Syrian family that managed to escape into Lebanon described what was left behind: a hellish landscape of burning buildings and vehicles and streets barricaded with rubble, all punctuated by explosions erupting at random.
“Sometimes you feel that the bombs are very close, other times that they are far away,” said Sarah, 19, crammed into the back seat of a white sedan with her mother and two sisters at this Lebanese border crossing, where the United Nations said about 18,000 Syrians fleeing the fighting crossed in the past 48 hours. “You don’t know what is happening. People are so scared that they all departed; there is no one left in our building.”
The Syrian military struck back hard in Midan and elsewhere across Damascus on Friday. The fighting created scenes of mayhem unimaginable in the capital even last week, and prompted a wide exodus as the military tried to retake the upper hand from an opposition emboldened after a bomb attack on Wednesday killed four top security officials.
In Syria, the raging battle seemed to be as much about public image as it was about the realities on the ground. The state remained determined to project an image that all was well, even while thousands fled. “Our heroic forces have completely cleansed the Midan area of the terrorist mercenaries and restored security,” state television reported, using its usual label for the rebel forces. The gruesome pictures showed corpses lying in blood, some in the streets with flies buzzing around them.
The retreating rebels claimed they were pulling back to spare civilians the full wrath of the army. “We are not ‘armed gangs or terrorist groups,’” said Abu Rami, 25, one of the rebel fighters abandoning Midan. “We are a popular armed force, and ordinary people support us. If we were not hosted by the people, we could not fight in these districts.”
With the sounds of exploding shells booming across the city at all hours and clouds of smoke billowing out of various neighborhoods, residents of Damascus either cowered at home or fled. Live broadcasts on state television meant to show that downtown Damascus was under control mostly showed its thoroughfares deserted.
“For people living in Damascus, seeing families flee the violence is very, very emotional,” said Sigurd F. Mikkelson, a journalist for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation as he crossed the border to Lebanon in a taxi with Syrians who were leaving. “They are afraid of the state falling apart,” he said.
Most of the Syrians crossing into Lebanon were scared and confused. They talked about power cuts in the richest neighborhoods and gasoline stations with no gas. They talked about civilians in Damascus suddenly trapped by the fighting for the first time in the 17 months since the conflict broke out.
“You feel the government is losing control, slowly but surely, every day a little more,” said one 30-year-old construction engineer, declining to give his name because he might go back. “After the assassinations, the people who were saying the system will survive started talking about its collapse.”
If the government manages to reassert control in Damascus in the coming days, then maybe the country will not disintegrate, he said, but he was not optimistic, especially as the hatred deepened between Alawites and Sunnis.
“I think a civil war is coming; you can see it and feel it,” he said, with Alawites talking about their fears of surviving while Sunnis burn with the desire for revenge.
“Eighty percent of the problem is sectarian and maybe 20 percent is about corruption,” said Mohamed al-Jazaeri, a young engineer, explaining his wish for a slow, measured political reform process that is nowhere in sight. “They are going to destroy the country, and they won’t be able to bring it back for another 20 years.”
Many Syrians were headed to stay with relatives, some to apartments they already owned and a few to hotels. But many without means staggered to the nearest village, Majd al-Anjar, where the local mosque set up a charity center where volunteers said that they had just distributed several hundred thin foam mattresses and food kits.
The mayor, Anwar Hamzeh, said Thursday night that he was stunned to see Syrian families parked by the side of the road, uneasy about where to go next. “They were afraid if they ended up in a Shiite village they would be killed,” he said. Hezbollah, the main Shiite party in Lebanon, supports the government of Bashar al-Assad, and many of those fleeing are Sunni Muslims.
So Majd al-Anjar opened its homes and one of its seven schools to the Syrians. Many more will come, they are sure. “There are seven million people in Damascus; where will they all go?” said Omar Abdel-Rahman, responsible at the charity center for distributing aid.
For everyone reaching Lebanon, there were hundreds more fleeing the capital into the Syrian countryside as the mood in Damascus shifted markedly -- not least because the government warned residents that it would shell rebellious neighborhoods.
Many of those arriving were well-to-do young families, the parents saying all they wanted was to get their children out of harm’s way while they were sure they still could. Some were obviously coming for the long haul, cars stacked with extra suitcases and children’s bicycles and kitchen utensils like a colander.
Many regretted the decision to leave even as they relaxed a bit in getting out. “I would rather die in Damascus; you are a stranger anywhere you go except your own country,” said Ghada, a 41-year-old housewife fleeing with her husband and two children. She, like others, did not want her last name used for fear of being identified.
Some maintained they were just headed to Beirut to relax, and they would take stock in a week or so. Most said they were not political, just worried, although there was an occasional whispered political opinion like, “We want freedom.”
On the other end of the scale, a young man riding in the passenger seat of a glistening, charcoal Porsche Panamera with special government license plates rolled down his window and denied anything was amiss in Damascus.
“There is nothing,” he said before the car roared off.
Friday was also the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that combines fasting and celebration and family reunions. But for Syrians, the holiday spirit was distinctly lacking.
“We don’t really feel like it’s Ramadan because of this war,” Mr. Jazaeri said. “It is going to the worst Ramadan in Syrian history, or at least the worst since the Ottomans invaded.”
That was in the early 16th century, but this is even blacker, he said, because “then they were fighting foreign invaders; this time they are fighting each other.”
STATE DEPT: SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL
By Josh Rogin
July 20, 2012
Syrian refugees are pouring into neighboring countries at an alarming and increasing rate, outpacing the international community's ability to assist them, according to State Department and USAID officials.
"The violence is increasing . . . and this increase in violence is, of course, leading to more people, and a larger number of people, that are inside Syria and that are along Syria's borders needing more humanitarian assistance," said Maria Otero, the under secretary of State for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.
Otero just returned from Turkey and Jordan, where she met with government officials, nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, human rights activists, and youth groups. She traveled there with Kelly Clements, the deputy assistant secretary of State for the bureau of population, refugees, and migration;
Clements said that as of Thursday, between 117,000 and 125,000 refugees had fled Syria to seek refuge in neighboring countries and thousands more were pouring over the borders each day. 8,500 Syrians crossed the border into Lebanon in the last 24 hours, she said.
As of Thursday, there were about 42,600 refugees in the camps along the Turkish border, she said. In Jordan, there are 37,000 refugees, of which about 35,000 have been registered with UNHCR. In Lebanon, there are 32,500; in Iraq about 8,000.
"There are obviously many more Syrians that have crossed that border but have not availed themselves of the need for international assistance," said Clements, adding that in Lebanon, "those numbers are rising very, very rapidly."
There are also 1.5 million Syrians inside Syria need of urgent assistance, including 300,000 to 500,000 internally displaced persons, but aid workers are struggling to reach them.
"Inside Syria, lack of access due to violence by all parties remains the number one limiting factor for humanitarian assistance. International humanitarian agencies simply are unable to reach those most in need," Clements said.
Aid workers are also being harassed and captured, even killed.
"We know it's been widespread, and we know from organizations that we're working with that medical clinics, health professionals have been targeted. We also know people simply trying to get aid in to help people have been targeted, said Mark Bartolini, director of the office of U.S. foreign disaster assistance.
At the Syria Humanitarian Forum last week in Geneva, the U.S. announced another $6 million in assistance to international organizations dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, bringing the total U.S. commitment in 2012 to $64 million, Clements said.
LEBANESE BORDER REGAINS SENSE OF NORMALCY
By Rakan al-Fakih
Daily Star (Beirut)
July 21, 2012
MASNAA, Lebanon -- The influx of Syrians crossing into Lebanon subsided Friday as the situation at the country’s eastern border crossing regained a sense of normalcy one day after a record number of Syrians entered Lebanon in the wake of heavy fighting in and around Damascus.
Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, who launched a scathing attack against the Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati for failing to provide help for Syrian refugees, called for “open borders” with Syria “from the north, the east, the Bekaa Valley, and the southeast to receive our Syrian brethren.”
Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said Friday that he had informed the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council that Lebanon could not cater to the needs of the increasing numbers of Syrian refugees on its own.
“First and foremost we need to provide the refugees with basic needs and this Lebanon cannot do on its own,” Abu Faour said.
“I received several phone calls from international organizations and embassies offering to pitch in, in the event that Lebanon asks for help.”
The minister added that Mikati will head a meeting at the Grand Sérail Monday afternoon to discuss the issue of refugees and their pressing needs.
According to Lebanese security forces, 5,000 Syrians crossed into Lebanon Friday alone. A source in Lebanon’s General Security said Thursday that over 30,000 Syrians had streamed across the Masnaa border over the previous 48 hours, and UNHCR carried similar numbers saying that by Friday “up to 30,000 Syrian refugees” had entered Lebanon.
Fatima al-Khatib, who was displaced to Damascus after she was forced to flee her home in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, arrived in Beirut Friday.
“I wouldn’t dare open the windows in Damascus; I thought I could die any minute,” Khatib said of the violence that escalated in Damascus in the last few days. “I am heading to Beirut to stay at a friend’s house.”
For its part, Lebanon’s Higher Relief Committee struggled to provide for the needs of the newcomers, in light of its financial woes. Earlier this month, the HRC stopped providing Syrian refugees with medical services after funds dried up.
“Our top priority has been to provide shelter for the newcomers,” HRC head Ibrahim Bashir told the *Daily Star*. “We are providing all the displaced Syrians in the Bekaa with shelter and now we are putting them inside tents, empty schools, and buildings.”
According to Bashir, the HRC has also sought the help of Saudi Arabia in a bid to provide food for the displaced from Syria.
In Majdal Anjar, the Al-Makassed and Al-Minhal schools have opened their doors to Syrian refugees seeking food and shelter, said Mohammad Jalloul, a member of the municipal council of the Bekaa Valley town.
In contrast to Thursday’s congestion, traffic at the Masnaa border crossing was back to normal Friday, with General Security offices and customs checkpoints reverting to habitual activity.
Non-governmental organizations such as the Lebanese Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders were stationed on the border in anticipation of a large influx of refugees, ready to transport any wounded that might arrive at the crossing.
Syrians who entered Lebanon in the past few days mainly hail from Damascus and the surrounding areas, according to security sources. The majority, however, refused to discuss the political situation in their country or be photographed by journalists.
While the first wave of refugees who came to Lebanon since the unrest in Syria erupted in March 2011 were in dire economic conditions, the latest batch seemed to be made up of middle-class and affluent Syrians, judging by their expensive cars and taxis.
This wave is also unlikely to register as refugees and seek aid from the Lebanese government and other organizations, but rather rely on their own funds while in Lebanon.
Khaled said he left his city Damascus along with his family because he feared a future deterioration in the security situation “rather than because of clashes inside the capital, since in Damascus, security and military forces still hold a tight grip on the security situation there.”
“My family and I are heading to Broummana to spend a few days at a hotel there,” Khaled said.
Most of the Syrians interviewed by The Daily Star said they will sleep in hotels and furnished apartments, and only a minority said they will stay with relatives and friends in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and north Lebanon.
Security sources added that the latest arrivals from Damascus were mainly supporters of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, fearing retaliatory attacks in some neighborhoods in the Syrian capital that were taken over by opposition groups.
A Syrian Kurdish taxi driver, Youssef, accused “armed gangs that roam some of the Damascus neighborhoods on motorcycles” of scaring people off and forcing them to leave their homes so that they can rob them.
“But this won’t last forever because the military will take control again and put an end to thuggish behavior,” Youssef said. “You will see the same people who went into Lebanon these few days return home from this same border crossing very soon.”
Meanwhile, in his first blatant attack on the Syrian regime, Lebanon’s top Muslim Sunni authority said “massacres” were being carried out against the Syrian people, adding he was “fed up” with the Syrian regime’s “insolent” approach.
Mufti Qabbani accused Lebanese gunmen in the Bekaa town of Arsal of preventing Syrians “who are fleeing oppression and murder” from entering Lebanese territory.
He also accused Lebanese guards at the Masnaa border crossing of preventing “tens of thousands of Syrian men, women and children from entering Lebanon.”
He added that a Lebanese official he contacted told him that guards were “only allowing people in cars to enter. As for the [poor] we don’t let them in.”
Qabbani called for opening Lebanon’s borders with Syria “from the north, the east, the Bekaa Valley and the southeast to receive our Syrian brethren.”
The mufti said several calls he made to the prime minister Thursday and Friday went unanswered.
“We call on Lebanese officials without exception to open the borders. Didn’t the Syrians [host] you during the [summer 2006] Israeli war on Lebanon which destroyed roads, highways and homes? Why are Lebanese officials in denial? If Lebanese officials do not open the borders, then God Almighty will displace them first if the [Lebanese people] are displaced,” Qabbani said.
He said Lebanon could no longer be kept at bay from events in Syria, warning that strife might hit Lebanon “harder this time.” He also warned of looming “destruction” in Lebanon and called on the Lebanese to preserve their unity.
The mufti also questioned why MPs who “support the Syrian people” failed to head to the Masnaa border crossing Thursday night and force General Security personnel to facilitate the entry of Syrians. – With additional reporting by Olivia Alabaster and Emma Gatten
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