Syrians flee growing Daraa violence

Posted: February 18, 2012

RAMTHA, Jordan - Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan for their lives described a dramatic escalation in violence and a mounting toll of dead and wounded in the southern city of Daraa and the country's battered central region.

Medical workers in neighboring Jordan prepared blood donations to send to Daraa, where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted nearly a year ago, as the regime struggled to extinguish major pockets of dissent with intensive shelling.

Activists said at least 26 civilians were killed Friday, many of them in the rebellious central city of Homs, where shells slammed into rebel-held residential areas.

The fighting in Homs, coupled with fresh violence in Daraa, has triggered a new wave of wounded refugees crossing the border into Jordan.

Seif, 22, who was being treated in a Jordanian hospital along with other Syrian refugees, said: "Government troops are shelling everything, whether it's buildings, people, houses. They consider us nothing. They want to eliminate us totally."

Seif said he had been working with army defectors from the Free Syrian Army, helping to retrieve the wounded from collapsed buildings and homes, when his leg was hit by shrapnel. He could not receive treatment in Syria, fearing he would be arrested and killed by pro-Assad gunmen.

"Our crime was helping people," said Seif, who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals by Assad's government. "But the regime accuses us of being terrorists."

Attacks on Daraa, where the uprising was touched off last March by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on the walls of the provincial capital, have escalated in the last few days.

Mohamed Ahmed Iyad of the Jordanian aid group Kitab and Sunna, which provides aid to 10,000 Syrians in Jordan, said his group was preparing blood bags and other medical supplies to send to Daraa.

In the last two days alone, 170 families - about 850 people - fled to Ramtha, just seven miles from the Syrian border, Iyad said. Most were from Daraa.

Syria has seen one of the bloodiest crackdowns since the wave of Arab uprisings began more than a year ago. More than 5,400 people were killed in Syria last year alone, the United Nations says, and the number of dead and injured rises daily. In addition, 25,000 people are estimated to have sought refuge in neighboring countries, and more than 70,000 are internally displaced.

By contrast, deaths in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have numbered in the hundreds.

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