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August 10, 2012

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PAGE 8A " HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 10, 2012 By Adam Nicky The Media Line ZAATARI CAMP, Jor- dan-Angered at having been forced from their homes and what they say is humiliation at the hands of aid groups and local police, Syrian nationals who have crossed into neighboring Jordan to find refuge and an escape from life-threat- ening violence, complained bitterly of life in the hur- riedly set-up Zaatari refugee camp. Stormy weather and simmering heat adding to their misery, some of the refugees have begun pro- tests, insisting they would be better off back home taking their chances with mindless artillery shells and snipers than in Jordan suffering in low standards of living, a lack of proper food and an absence of medical services. Jordan security forces cbrdoned the camp and Stopped protesters from leaving after hearing the demonstrators say they would prefer to return to temporary centers in the heart of border town of Ramtha, where they spent the past months, rather than continue living in the desert camp. Abu Kamel, an activist from the restive city of Deraa, told TheMedia Line t at refugees would rather face death under Syrian President Bashar AI-Assad's regime than face humilia- tion abroad. The rugged and dark skin ofAbu Kamal are symptoms of an arduous life. The man with a barrel chest, speak- ing from beneath his thick mustache, said he arrived in Jordan two months ago after learning he was wanted by the air force intelligence services for giving a tour to U.N. observers in his home town of Harak. "They want- ed me dead or alive I had to leave my family behind and rur for it," he said, rei:alling scenes of horror on the bor- der as he crossed under fire from Syrian border guards. He almost didn't make it. The 57-year old was shot and injured while trying to cross clandestinely to Jordan. Another refugee, who gave his name as Abu Ahme from Horns, echoed the anger of Abu Kamal. "They promised to provide good conditions, but the situation is bad," he said. "Living in Homs Under bombardment;' is better than life in the desolate Zaatari camp. "Until now, the situation is zero, as if we are not hu- mans. I am saying we were sitting under bombardment, but it was more honorable and comfortable," he added. Both men have spent the past two months in the King Abdullah Reception Centre for single men, most of whom are activists escap - ing prosecution by Syr.ian government forces. When the crisis in Syria began, Jordan resisted the temptation of opening refu- gee camps on geopolitical and economic grounds, pre- ferring instead to disperse asylum seekers within the urban population. But ris- ing numbers of refugees and incoming aid helped Jordan reconsider its position. The first campopened last Week and the government said as many as 20 camps could be opened in future. The KingAbdullah Cen- tre, a sports complex turned into a makeshift holding facility for refugees, has witnessed repeated clashes among refugees, police and staff from the United Na- tions agency for refugees, UNHCR. Eye witnesses told The Media Line that authorities have sent tens of Syrian activists back to Syria for provoking protests at the center. But while U.N. Of-. ficials defend the facility, saying they are doing their best to provide proper con- ditions, they complain-of a lack of funding from the international community and call for patience among the refugees. "When we have 1,400 to 2,000 people arriving every night, we have to do what we can. People make a decision that this maybe- is a desert, but it is bet- ter to be here than to be in Syria at the moment,'" Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative to Jordan said as U.N. staff contin- ued evacuating families from makeshift homes in Ramtha and Mafraq to -relocate them in the camp. Zaatari is set up on an area of 300 square kilometers and can accommodate up to 9,000 people. Jordanian officials said more camps will be opened in the near future on the Jordanian side of the border with Syria that covers 84 kilometers, run- ning between the cities of 'Mafraq and Ramtha. The Jordanian authorities estimate about 14.2,000 Syr- ians have come to Jordan since the uprising began, but diplomats say not all of them are classified as refu- gees. In Ramtha, dozens of arrivals refused to go to the new camp at Mafraq, saying they would rather return to Syria than stay in the desert. Meanwhile, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh saidon July 29 that his country will continue pro- viding the safe haven that the Syrians seek but asked for help from the interna- tional community. "At the same time, given the num- bers, the increasing num- bers that we have seen in the last few months, we sought the assistance of friends around the world--the international community, international organizations and in particular UN- HCR," Minister Judeh said during a press conference. Most Syrian refugees have found accommodations on their own or through !slamist charities and com- patriots who had fled during an earlier wave of repression by Assad's father, the late President Hafez AI-Assad, in the 1980s. Syrian troops have tried to prevent refugees from crossing into Jordan by min- ing parts of the border, and in some cases, shooting at fleeing civilians, which has prompted Jordan to send armored reinforcements to" the frontier. Diplomats say there have been several instances of Jordanian and Syrian forces exchanging fire following the killing of refugees as they attempted to cross, while they were in the "no- man's land" between the two countries. Meanwhile, refugees in Zaatari camp say they have no choice but to endure the : living conditions in hope that the crisis in their coun- try ends very soon. "We are suffering not only because of the difficult life here, but we are also wor- ried about our,country, our families and what the future holds for us," said distraught looking Abu Kamal. By Stephen Starr The Media Line BEIRUT, Lebanon--Ah- mad is from a well-to-do Sunni family and lives in a wealthy area of central Damascus. Hewa~recently married and is trained as a dentist but his interests stretch from politics to Arabic music. In the past he spoke of his admiration for President Bashar At-Assad, whom he saw as a man at- tempting to angle free from the regime forces of his father's generation to build a new Syria. Seven months ago when I last spoke to Ahmad (whose last name cannot be pub- lished for security reasons), he preached of giving the authorities time to enact their reforms "because the alternative--civil war--is so much worse than them," he said. At that time, he spoke of how reform "takes time" and of how changinJ a 40-year-old system takes "much longer than a couple of months." The recent violence in Damascus has seen Ah- mad, like thousands of other Syrians, flee the city for Lebanon. Tens of thousands of middle-class Damascenes packed-up and left for Lebanon when on July 16, government forces began an operation to oust rebels from parts of the city. Ahmad left shortly after, his family following a couple of days later. For four days earlier this month the violence that has gripped much of the country finally arrived in Damascus. The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), comprised pri- marily of defectors from the regime's forces, mounted a 9 oat osept; 3enderowitz Noah Joseph Senderow- itz, son of Robin and Phillip Senderowtiz of Maitland, Fla will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah on Saturday, Aug. 18 at Con- gregation Ohev Shalom in Maitland. Noah is in the eighth grade at Trinity Prepara- tory School. His hobbies and interests include: read- ing, piano, playing video games, playing with his dog Cooper, and spending time with family and friends. Sharing in the family's simcha will be Noah's brother, Jacob; grandmother, Joan Wagner of Altamonte Springs; grandfather, Arthur Volk of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.; grandmother, Michelle Peischl of New Tripoli, Penn.; uncle, David Wagner and cousin Sarah Wagner of AI- tamonte Springs. " campaign of attacks on gov- For Damascenes--who ernmentbuildingsinseveral had not been directly af- districts of Syria's capital, fected by the regime's weap- The regime's response . ons; who had not had their was immediate, and brutal, homes destroyed in shelling Government helicoptersor have had relatives killed fired rockets and security in the fighting--for these forces shelled the residen- few days there was no elec- tial areas where the FSA tricity, no food and no one urb of Qudsayiyya, a ten- anslivingtheretemporarily. minute drive from the city As of last week UNHCR, the center, where apartments United Nations organization regularly fetch sell for more which supports refugees, than $1million, earlier this has registered 120,028 month where he reported refugees in Lebanon, Tur- driving through a scene he key, Iraq and Jordan. The could not quite believe, actual figure is likely to be "Telephone and electric- far greater. was operating. Hundreds" of residents caught in the crossfire were killed .and many more were injured. On July 20, following four days of intense fighting in south and northeast Da- mascus, the rebels fled in what they called a "tactical withdrawal." Today, civilians in the affected areas still fear a backlash from government militias, or shabiha, for what the regime may per- ceive as their compliance with the rebels. It has been this brutality, this total ,lack of regard for civilians, says Ahmad, which has changed his and others' views of the Syrian government. "Six months ago I would say 60 percent of people in Da- mascus wanted the regime to stay; three months ago maybe 40 percent," says Ahmad. "But now, so much more blood has been spilt; only maybe 10 percent of people in the city still sup- port them. Now we have seen firsthand what they are capable of doing to us," he adds. "There were streams Of families clutching their belongings walking along the streets of central Da- mascus during this time [of the battles]. This is something we are not used to, this is something we see on television happen- ing to people in Horns or Idlib or Iraq--not here in the heart of Damascus," he says as he muses on the prism of historical pride Damascenes have come to view themselves through, dared to move in the streets, ity pylons were smashed on The regime had taken over the streets, everywhere was thecity. Itwasforthem, not dark. I saw five bodies left the residents of Damascus. out in the open. Their [the "The stench of garbage was regime's] idea was to show horrific," Ahmad recalls, the locals that this is what Damascus has changed happens to you ifyou oppose almost out of recognition us, if you demonstrate." over the past number of Such scenes have forced months, he says as he tells him and his family to or- of the bleak situation fac- ganize backup plans. His ing the city where the vast father has rented an apart- majority of civilians are ment in Jounieh, a resort dependent on their savings town north of Beirut, for to survive when fleeing Damascus is Motorists no longer stop necessary. at traffic lights at night. But the revolution has Western-style cafes built to hit wealthy peoples' pock- meet demand from a once- ets, too. growing number of young, "My father has three wealthy Damascenes are apartments in Damascus doing a very slack trade, and they're all empty. He Illegal, unlicensed, street hadagoodbusinessbutnow, traders have mushroomed like everyone, it's finished. on sidewalks in all parts of He's thinking of moving to the city center. For many, Saudi and maybe then to it has been these small but the UK with the rest ofrny noticeable changes that family if he can". have swelled a sense of fear - The Media Line asked in the capital. Ahmad if business families The breakdown in law and the wealthy are prepar- and orderinsideDamascus, ing to act more defiantly says Ahmad, has been most against the regime. "Busi- apparent in the aggressive- nessmen never get involved ness of the security forces in revolutions, but theywill that now man checkpoints help rebuild the country throughout the City. after the regime goes," he "Last week they stopped simply replied. my wife and I when we were The vast majority of driving. They were very ag- Damascus residents who gressive, asking us who we are fleeing the capital were, where we were going, have found themselves in butinaveryaggressiveway, a far graver situation than It was as if they wanted to Ahmad and are fleeing for arrest us, they were looking their lives. His friend sitting for a reaction, an excuse with us at a caf on Nejmah to take me in. But I stayed square in downtown Beirut calm, fortunately." lives in the Lebanese-Syrian Ahmad spoke of driving border town of Chtouraand to the restless eastern sub- says there are 30,000 Syri- However, the fact that the city's elite are forced into such action--and such radi- cal views given the prosper- ity they, enjoyed under the Assad regime--is startling. But Ahmad is returning to, Damascus, or Sham as it is known colloquially, soon. Where he will wait and hope for the regime to fall. "The big problem for people is that they cannot make any plans. They are stuck one day at a time, every day for 16months." Relative quiet has re- turned to the capital dur- ing the past few days as the Syrian army concentrates its efforts on assailing rebel forces in the northern city of Aleppo where, like Damas- cus, opponents to the Assad regime have taken control of a number of residential neighborhoods But the violence will re- turn to the capital. The rebels' inability to defeat regime forces during recent skirmishes in the capital does not necessarily mean the government will prevail. It does, however, mean this revolt will con- tinue on for some time, and that many more lives will be lost. Families like Ahmad's, who live several hundred meters from the presidential palace--the ultimate prize for rebels--are likely to find themselves fleeing the city once more. "At least we have the op- tion to come to Beirut," he says, referring to his family. "Many people do not and they are stuck there."