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Syrian flight to Jordan continues amid border battle


Mar 14, 2013

AMMAN -- Hundreds of Syrians fled to Jordan early Thursday as regime and rebel forces continued their battle for the border crossings.

According to the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF), some 1,800 Syrians entered the Kingdom early Thursday, driving the total number of new arrivals over the past seven days to over 10,000, and to some 20,000 since the beginning of March.

The influx comes amid ongoing upswing in violence across southern Syria as regime and rebel forces continue their battle for control of the Jordanian-Syrian border.

Jordanian security sources reported heavy gunfire and shelling in the Syrian border towns of Nasib, Shajarah and Al Jiza late Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is currently leading a campaign to capture the Ramtha and Nasib/Jaber crossing points -- Syria's main conduits to Jordan and reportedly the last regime outposts along the border.

Rebel forces claim to have made "rapid advances" over the past 48 hours, including briefly exerting control over the Ramtha crossing late Wednesday.

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"FSA units have nearly captured the entire Jordanian-Syrian border and last night momentarily liberated the Ramtha crossing," claimed Abu Hani Al Darawi, an FSA officer based in the border region.

Rebel sources say the FSA held control of the border crossing for six hours before being repelled by regime forces backed by airpower.

Syrian rebel and Jordanian security sources said Syrian regime forces have "diminished" in number at the two major crossing points, with Damascus relying heavily on bombing campaigns to keep the FSA at bay.

Rebel forces say they aim to facilitate the mass crossing of the 15,000 estimated displaced Syrians currently amassed along the border.

Current fighting along the border region has reduced the refugee influx into Jordan, according to relief officials, and has reportedly pushed the nightly migration of Syrians eastwards to the lesser-travelled desert routes.

UN officials have called on the international community to avert an emerging "humanitarian catastrophe".

During an official visit to Jordan on Wednesday, UN Refugee Agency High Commissioner Antonio Guterres warned of "catastrophic consequences" and a regional "political explosion" if the international community fails to step up aid to Syria's neighbours, who are witnessing a daily influx of some 8,000 refugees.

Jordan has opened its borders to over 450,000 Syrians since the onset of the conflict in March 2011. UN officials expect the number to cross the one million mark before the end of the year.

With intensifying violence driving between 70,000-100,000 Syrians into Jordan per month, relief officials say the Kingdom must build a refugee camp every 30 days in order to accommodate them.

Authorities are planning to open the country's second refugee camp near the eastern city of Azraq, with plans in place for a third camp to host some 70,000 near the city.

Official sources said the government is currently mulling a proposal to establish a mass "refugee zone" near the northeastern town of Rweished along the Syrian and Iraqi borders in order to cope with the burgeoning influx.

Due to an ongoing funding shortfall -- with the UN having received less than 20 per cent of a $1.5 billion refugee aid appeal launched in December -- plans to establish new camps have been put "on hold".

© Jordan Times 2013

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