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Fleeing Syrian refugees tell of dodging bullets in orange grove

Abu Abbas is just one of an estimated 2,000 Syrian refugees to escape since the weekend to Lebanon, which is coming under increasing pressure to aid those fleeing Assad's brutal regime.

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Syrian families who fled from the Syrian town of Qusair near Homs, are seen at the Lebanese-Syrian border village of Qaa, eastern Lebanon, Monday, March 5. More than a thousand Syrian refugees have poured across the border into Lebanon, among them families with small children carrying only plastic bags filled with their belongings as they fled a regime hunting down its opponents.

Hussein Malla/AP

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A narrow but dense belt of orange orchards strung along Syria’s border with northeast Lebanon has become a deadly hurdle to be crossed by desperate Syrian refugees escaping the violence in the city of Homs and surrounding towns.

Refugees newly arrived in Lebanon recount horror stories of Army troops and pro-regime Shabiha militiamen chasing fleeing Syrians through the orchards and executing them on the spot. Many of the newly arrived refugees are from the town of Qusayr, five miles north of the Lebanese border, which has been shelled and plagued by snipers for several weeks.

“People are thinking if I stay in Qusayr, I’m going to die, so I have nothing to lose by trying to reach the Lebanese border,” says Abu Abbas, a resident of Qusayr who fled the besieged town with his family 10 days ago. “We couldn’t live there any longer. The shelling was nonstop. They were using everything against us – rockets, mortars, machine guns.” 

Lebanon, which has long lived under the shadow of its powerful neighbor, has opted for a policy of disassociation with the crisis in Syria. But as the violence worsens in Syria and the flow of refugees increases, Beirut may find that it can no longer ignore the crisis on its doorstep.

Indeed, the Lebanese government is coming under mounting international pressure to provide proper humanitarian assistance to refugees, with 2,000 estimated to have entered the country just since the weekend and an increasing number expected to follow. But the government is torn between responding to that pressure and observing the interests of the Assad regime in Damascus, to which it has close ties.

Yesterday, US Ambassador Maura Connelly urged Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to provide help for all Syrians fleeing into Lebanon whether civilians, activists, or Army deserters. Meanwhile, Ali Abdul Karim, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, was emphasizing to Prime Minister Najib Mikati the need to secure Lebanon’s border with Syria to prevent the smuggling of arms to rebel groups and the infiltration of anti-regime militants.

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