Tanks Block Syrians From Fleeing To Lebanon

A Lebanese town that straddles the border with Syria expected to see a wave of Syrians arriving after escaping recent sectarian violence in Homs. But the Syrian army apparently has shut down all escape routes. Only a small number of Syrians managed to get out.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A few journalists have made it in and out of Syria, but we still don't know what's happening in much of the country. No outside observers have made it to the city of Homs, where dozens of people have reportedly been killed in protests in recent days. Some refugees from the city have made it across the border to Lebanon, where they spoke with NPR's Deborah Amos.

(Soundbite of rooster crowing)

DEBORAH AMOS: In the windswept hills of northern Lebanon, the border with Syria is along a dirt path and family ties are as strong as the sympathies for the protest movement across the border. The mukhtar, the official of the village, Mustapha al-Mustapha, expected an exodus from Homs after getting firsthand reports from his cousins about the violent crackdown. But no one from Homs has crossed in days.�

Mr. MUSTAPHA AL-MUSTAPHA (Mukhtar): (Through translator): Inside Homs maybe there is like a civil war. Homs is closed, nobody can go out.

AMOS: The Syrian tanks blocking the border are clearly visible from here across a field. Even the smugglers have been shut down. But reports are getting through of sustained sectarian violence, of security forces and pro-government militias storming through Homs, carrying out mass arrests, firing on funeral processions. Mustapha expects a refugee flood soon.�

Unidentified Woman (Interpreter): He is sure that when they will get the chance, they will go out. Nobody's going to stay, because the person staying is dying.

AMOS: Mustapha is checking on some recent arrivals. He sends us to meet a woman who escaped from the village of Casayr on the outskirts of Homs. She crossed the rocky hills in the middle of the night with her children and moved in with her brother, Khalid Mahmoud. He explains that the army surrounded her village and ordered everyone to stop working.�

Mr. KHALID MAHMOUD: (Through translator) There's no way that anything enters the village, so the people started to shoot the army.

AMOS: Reports of fire from armed villagers are another dangerous turn in the unrest in Syria, as well as the first openly sectarian clashes in Homs. Gunman from the Alawite sect loyal to President Bashar al-Assad attacked Sunni neighborhoods in Homs that are the heart of the protest movement in the city.

This elementary school is a shelter for Syrians who crossed into Lebanon in the past few weeks. Amira and Leyla give their first names but nothing more out of fear for their sons; activists, they say, who are still in Homs.

Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible) killing and from the security and Shabiha.

AMOS: The Shabiha, Alawite militias, are feared even more than the security forces. Activists blame them for inflaming sectarian tensions in Homs. The state media has charged armed Islamist militants started the clashes. But Amira and Leyla react with anger at the government's charges.

Unidentified Woman: They said that it's not true. They can show us what's going on because they filmed everything on their laptops.

AMOS: They unpack a computer, an essential item, it seems, even as they fled across the border. They scroll through a menu of videos from Homs to scenes of the dreaded Shabiha militia firing at Sunni men on the streets. The wounded are carried away on motorcycles as the crowd runs in panic. My son filmed that, says Amira, proudly.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.�

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.