x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

Jordan refuses to take thousands fleeing Deraa onslaught

The four-days of fighting have already displaced 17,000 by one estimate, 75,000 by the opposition's figure.

Smoke rises from al-Harak town, as seen from Deraa countryside, Syria June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqir
Smoke rises from al-Harak town, as seen from Deraa countryside, Syria June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqir

Jordan will not open its borders to thousands of civilians fleeing a regime offensive on rebels in southern Syria, an official said.

The attack in Deraa was launched by government and allied forces last week despite a year-old “de-escalation” agreement in the province between the United States, Jordan and regime ally Russia.

“Jordan will not abandon its humanitarian responsibilities, but it has also reached its maximum capacity and therefore will not be able to deal with the repercussions of the military escalation in south [Syria],” a Jordanian official told The National.

Jordan already hosts 1.3 million Syrians, of whom about 650,000 are registered with the UN refugee agency.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said about 17,000 people have been displaced in Deraa since last week but the opposition-run Deraa Council said at least 75,000 had fled north-eastern parts of the province towards the western areas and villages near the Jordanian border.

______________

Deraa offensive:

Russia carries out first air strikes in south Syria ceasefire zone

Syrian rebels say US tells them it won't intervene in south Syria

Thousands flee as Syrian regime drops napalm and phosphorus on rebel-held south

______________

A Syrian NGO worker said aid organisations could not cope with the numbers.

“Those displaced are struggling to find shelter and there is a shortage of food and tents,” said the worker. “We have distributed emergency packages but the problem is that we’re not prepared.”

Deraa Council member Musa Zoubi said a humanitarian crisis had developed in the past 48 hours.

“The basic food items are decreasing, only a few families received emergency packages. There is a shortage of water… and we are trying to set up camps but we do not have tents. Others are taking shelter in schools,” he said.

Another Syrian activist said the regime had closed an informal crossing into rebel-held territory, cutting off supplies of fuel, gas and food brought by traders.

Sam Heller, a senior analyst with International Crisis Group, said Jordan was already worried about new flows of displaced but "now it faces a real emergency”.

“The collapse of the ceasefire deal has already sent thousands of displaced towards the Jordanian border, even as clashes have mostly been limited to the less populated Lajah badlands,” he said. “As fighting spreads and more flee, Jordan could find itself unable to safely manage the huge build-up of people along its border.”

Since Saturday, Russia and the Syrian regime have launched dozens of air strikes, more than 100 barrel bombs, surface-to-surface missiles and more than 2,000 mortar shells, the monitors said.

“The shelling and the bombing were unprecedented in the past few days. The regime is using the scorched earth policy,” said Saber Sifer, political representative for a rebel umbrella group operating in the south. “Russia’s intervention is to pressure us to reconcile, but we are against [such] … reconciliations and our only option is steadfastness.”

Jordan and the international community have been calling for an end to the fighting.

“Neither the United States nor Jordan is willing to give the rebels more leverage with Russia, which means that if the rebels don't like what Moscow is offering them then the only other option is war with Assad,” said Nick Heras, Middle East security fellow at the Centre for a New American Security.

However, at the same time, “Jordan wants the uncertainty on its northern border to stop”, he said.