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Neighbors from the Deathtrap

by Aharon Granevich-Granot, Ar-Ramtha, on the Syrian border

Last week, residents of the Syrian city of Homs faced what they call a “massacre,” as Bashar al-Assad’s regime targeted the city to show how far he’ll go to stamp out the opposition. Further south, in the border city of Daraa, residents face another bloodbath. And in Ar-Ramtha, on the Jordanian side of the border, Aharon Granevich-Granot and Eli Cobin heard the gruesome stories of some of those Syrian nationals who made it across to temporary safety.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

syrian boyWe stood on a mound of earth in Ar-Ramtha, a northern Jordanian town close to the Syrian-Jordanian border, trying to peer into the distance on the horizon. If the birds overhead had been able to speak, they certainly would have carried reports of the bloodbath taking place not far from the spot where we stood. It was the closest point to the area where Bashar al-Assad’s troops have been slaughtering thousands of Syrian citizens, who had become disgusted by his tyrannical oppression and were paying for it with their lives.

Earlier, while we stood in Abdul Latif’s grocery store in Ar-Ramtha, we heard about the bloodshed from a firsthand witness.

It wasn’t easy for us to get inside Abdul Latif’s store. We had to wait until our constant companion on this trip, an officer of the Jordanian tourist police who never left our side, was distracted by a conversation with one of his friends. As soon as he turned away, we entered the store, assuring Latif that we had no connection with the Jordanian secret police. We told him that we were merely foreign journalists (Eli Cobin is a native English-speaker and we were accompanied by David Uzan, our interpreter).

Latif quickly pushed aside a number of cans of olives and pickles, casting nervous glances all around. Behind the massive cans was the frightened face of Osama, a Daraa native who had escaped across the border and had been hiding in Latif’s store for several days.

Osama’s expression broadcast his hysteria. “Tell the world that they must save us,” he begged us after his benefactor had convinced him to talk. “The world does not know what is taking place in Daraa.”

Since last March, Daraa — just 15 minutes away from our perch in Ar-Rathma — has been the target of bloody reprisals against antigovernment protesters. The riots began when 15 teenage boys were arrested and tortured for anti-regime graffiti. As mass protests swelled, security forces targeted demonstrators, leading to hundreds of gruesome deaths. Daraa has since become a focal point of the anti-Assad uprising, but government forces have continued to suppress the groundswell with rooftop snipers, artillery fire, by cutting power and phone lines, and random firing into unarmed crowds.

Our interpreter, David Uzan — a student of Middle Eastern studies — tells us that Osama’s speech is fragmented; he is paralyzed by terror. Perhaps he fears that the loyal agents of the Syrian dictator will apprehend him in his hiding place behind the cans in Abdul Latif’s grocery store.

“The English-speaking ophthalmologist [Syrian president Bashar al-Assad —Ed.], who fooled the world into thinking that he had a European mentality, has been revealed as a brutal tyrant. He ordered his army to slaughter innocent civilians without mercy,” Osama told us in Arabic, which David Uzan translated into Hebrew after we left the store.

“In Daraa, we have been trapped in our homes for long months,” Osama said, describing the dire situation there. “No one goes out into the streets. Syrian army snipers are stationed on the rooftops and they shoot passersby in cold blood. Innocent people are killed in the streets, people who did nothing wrong. The streets are filled with dead bodies, and there is no one even to bury them. We are all terrified.

“Commerce has been paralyzed,” the Syrian refugee went on. “All the stores are closed and the banks are locked. The streets are empty, and people are starving to death. We have nothing to eat and nowhere to go.”

 

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