Syrians fleeing Damascus after years of avoiding war

August 28, 2013

August 28, 2013

Jacob Wirtschafter, Abdulrahman al-Masri and Nuha Shaaban, Special for USA TODAY

People in the capital have been insulated from the civil war that has consumed whole cities and left nearly 100,000 people dead. But no longer. This article originally appeared in USA Today. The link is here.

AMMAN: People in the Syrian capital of Damascus have been insulated from the civil war that has consumed whole cities and left nearly 100,000 people dead. But no longer.

Residents of Damascus are fleeing the city, as well as other areas, for the nation’s borders as the U.S. and its Western allies prepare possible military strikes over alleged chemical weapons attacks by the regime of Bashar Assad.

Many are Shiite Muslims and Alawites who have supported Assad as he seeks to crush a rebellion of largely Sunni Muslims who want to topple his dictatorship.

“In some areas, there is mass migration by Alawites and other Shiites — they are taking everything with them, even furniture,” said Abu Foad, a reporter for Orient, a pro-opposition television channel, based in outer Damascus. “They are fleeing from areas that are likely going to get hit.”

The United States and United Kingdom have been preparing to launch potential military strikes in Syria after hundreds of people were killed last week in an alleged chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, an area east of Damascus.

Pro-opposition website Kulna Shorkaa reported Syrian intelligence branches were moving documents to alternative locations, and the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said it evacuated 89 people including 75 Russians on Tuesday, with more expected to leave on Wednesday.

Observers say that towns bordering Jordan have seen “huge numbers” of migrants from Syria’s capital, Damascus, arriving but that closed ports and tightened entry conditions to refugee camps in the neighboring country mean that people have nowhere to go.

“There is news that al-Zaatri camp has stopped further entry because numbers of displaced exceeded 120,000,” said Nayef al-Sari, 40, with the opposition in Daraa. “Jordanian authorities have issued orders to stop entry for 45 day — even the wounded have some difficulties entering.”

Meanwhile, the refugees wait in Tal Shahab and Nasib near the border, mostly taking shelter in schools, or sleeping in the open.

“Food, basic survival materials and baby milk are absent but the hands of medical staff are tied — they can’t help these displaced people, who are sick or whose medical condition have worsened due to migration,” said al-Sari.

Assad denies having launched a chemical weapons attack but accusations mounted Wednesday that Assad’s regime is to blame. NATO’s secretary-general released a statement saying “a wide variety of sources” pointed to the Syrian regime.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said the “horrific use” of chemical weapons by Syria “is unacceptable and cannot go unanswered. Those responsible must be held accountable.”

“Eighty percent of Ghouta are for the strike,” said Foad, referring to the region northwest of Damascus where the alleged attack happened. “Damascus is mostly against because they are living their lives fine and they only care about themselves.”

Contributing: Michael Scaturro, Janelle Dumalaon

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