Wednesday 25 April 2018

Fleeing Syrian refugees say the UN has left them to die

Andrew Osborn in Khirbet el-Joz

Refugees fleeing the advancing forces of the Syrian army have accused the United Nations of abandoning them to their fate, saying they fear they will be massacred.

Syrian troops sweeping through the restive towns and villages around Jisr al-Shughour in the north of the country were spotted yesterday just miles from the Turkish border.

Men trapped inside the country said that they had spotted snipers taking up position.

They said they had been warned by Turkish soldiers that the Syrian troops were preparing to attack them and they were defenceless against any assault.

"What is the United Nations doing? Nothing," Abu Ahmed said, as three small children and two women sheltered behind him in a tent fashioned from tree trunks and plastic sheeting. "They are just talking and doing nothing to help. Why were they so quick to help Libya but do nothing for us?"

Western leaders say there is no chance of intervention of the sort that has given groups fighting against Col Muammar Gaddafi control over swathes of Libya.

Abu Ahmed, a farm worker from a village near Jisr Al-Shughour, said: "We are afraid that they will come at night and take us away. I am afraid they will beat us and maybe do worse to my small child."

The latest offensive by the Syrian army was ordered following clashes between pro and anti-regime forces last week, in which Syrian state television said 120 people were killed in Jisr al-Shughour.

Official reports claimed that security forces were attacked by "armed gangs", but activists abroad said local troops refused orders to fire on protesters and were shot in punishment.

Regime forces, which used tanks and helicopters to retake Jisr al-Shughour on Monday, continued clean-up operations yesterday, killing six civilians in the nearby town of Ariha, activists said,.

Another activist claimed that forces were already in the other major town in the region, Maarat al-Numaan, where 12 people were believed to have been shot dead by troops in May and more killed by shelling on Friday.

Thousands of residents have fled to Turkey but many are determined to remain in Syria to return to their homes and, some said, to continue with their protests.

Many refugees corroborated reports that the Syrian army had operated a scorched earth policy, poisoning water supplies, cutting electricity, rampaging through their homes and shooting indiscriminately.

Several refugees also claimed that Syrian soldiers had raped at least four young girls to punish their families for trying to return to Jisr Al-Shughour.

Others spoke of the police rounding up hundreds of people who were taken away, not to be seen again.

An indication of the further violence that might be in store was also on show. For the first time, refugees were seen to be openly carrying assault rifles, and some were defiant. "For every one person the regime arrests or kill there are 10 more to take their place and continue the fight," said Haytham, a young man sitting in a tent full of medical supplies.

There is little chance of Western intervention because Russia and China are blocking UN resolutions to condemn the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Arab League publicly criticised the violence for the first time yesterday, saying Arab states were "angry and actively monitoring" the crisis. The comments by Amr Moussa, the league's outgoing secretary general, were dismissed by the Syrian regime as "unbalanced and politically motivated". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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