Already displaced Syrians flee as airstrikes reach within 100 meters of remote camp

AMMAN: A military offensive by pro-regime forces along Syria’s southern border sent dozens of people in a remote displacement camp fleeing deeper into the desert for a fifth consecutive day Tuesday, sources told Syria Direct, days after regime airstrikes reportedly hit “only 100 meters” from the settlement’s tents.

Roughly 50 people from the Hadalat camp left on Tuesday as warplanes reportedly circled above, arriving at the similarly remote, poorly supplied Rukban border camp in rebel territory 120km northeast, a Rukban-based citizen journalist named Emad Abu a-Sham told Syria Direct.

Most of the displaced families in Hadalat fled two years ago after the Islamic State seized their home villages.

Tuesday’s arrivals to Rukban are among an estimated 50 families—or as many as 250 people—who have fled there in the past five days, after regime airstrikes reportedly struck “only 100 meters from [Hadalat] camp residents,” during fighting last week, the Rukban citizen journalist said.

Syria Direct reached out to recent arrivals from Hadalat, but did not receive replies.

The regime’s advances are part of a week-long push to take control of territory on Suwayda’s southeastern border region, located west of a former crossing point with Jordan where the Hadalat camp sits.

As of Monday, Syrian Arab Army forces were just 40km from the Hadalat camp, Usud a-Sharqia spokesman Saad al-Haj told Syria Direct. An estimated 5,000 displaced Syrians live in abject poverty in the camp, stranded in a remote stretch of desert.

Last Thursday, the Syrian Arab Army took control of a 30-kilometer stretch of land along the Syrian-Jordanian border, including “all security points along the border,” state news agency SANA reported at the time.

On Monday, clashes were continuing “off and on, with no advances from any side,” al-Haj said. His faction, the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Usud a-Sharqia, as well as the FSA’s Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo Brigade, were involved in the fighting.

Hadalat is an informal encampment of roughly 5,000 displaced people settled in 2015 by Syrians fleeing the Islamic State in central Homs province. Today they live in a no-man’s-land known between two earthen berms marking the Syrian and Jordanian borders.

Food, water and medicine are scarce in Hadalat, where some families are reportedly surviving “solely on flour and water,” UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement on Monday. Residents live in makeshift tents dotting the harsh, open desert landscape.

The outskirts of Hadalat camp on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Saeed Abu Seif.

Until recently, however, Hadalat has witnessed far less violence than its larger neighbor, Rukban, 120km northeast, where IS has claimed a series of bomb attacks since last year. Armed gunmen roam the camp at will, and the rule of law is virtually non-existent for the 75,000 residents who live there.

The regime’s advances in recent days now threaten both camps, as the regained territory in southeastern Suwayda cuts off a number of trade and smuggling routes between rebel-held southern Daraa province and the eastern desert region where the Hadalat and Rukban camps are located. Both encampments relied on the smuggling routes for vital food and medical supplies.

Still, those streaming into Rukban from Hadalat hope to receive some form of food and shelter from existing residents, Abu Emad, the Rukban-based citizen journalist with the organization Bridges of Hope, told Syria Direct.

“The people coming here from Hadalat prefer suffering [in Rukban] to death by regime bombs.”

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.