Monday 2 April 2012

Alliance for Kurdish Rights: Kurdish soldiers are defecting from the Syrian army, and have harrowing stories of women subject to rape, children to torture and men killed without mercy by the authoritarian regime.
 Kurdish soldiers defecting from Syrian army | Alliance for Kurdish Rights

?20 year-old Isa Hussein, a Kurdish soldier in the Syrian army was killed last week for refusing to shoot civilians during the uprising. Hundreds of Kurds have escaped to Southern Kurdistan against the regime’s brutal crackdown. They have described in harrowing details the horrifying ordeal that protesters and their families are subject to under the Syrian authoritarian regime.One Kurdish defected soldier, who has spoken to journalists under the pseudonym of Maxim Kawa said he was commanded to shoot at protesters, and often men were dragged out of their houses with their hands tied behind their backs, and “We put them against a wall and shot them,” he said.Another soldier who defected, 21-year old Rolat Azad explained that women were routinely raped by Syrian soldiers, houses looted and many were killed afterwards. “They gave us orders: ‘You are free to do what you like,’ he said.

Women’s Media Center have begun using crowd-sourcing techniques to record rape and sexual violence cases in Syria. The women right’s group aims to build up sufficient evidence for prosecuting those responsible on grounds of war crimes.

The group has posted more than 20 stories, and was launched on Wednesday. This project was launched by Lauren Wolfe, who is the director of Women Under Siege. She said, “Any tool that we can use to highlight what’s happening on the ground and document human rights abuse, atrocities and incidences of sexual violence is useful for accountability”.

The Syrian Government has informed the lead international envoy dealing with the crisis in that country that it will complete the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from population centres by 10 April, the President of the United Nations Security Council said today.The Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, briefed the Council via video-link in a closed-door session earlier Monday, telling the 15-member body that he was informed of Syria’s decision in a letter he received yesterday from the country’s foreign minister.

“Mr. Annan said he wished that he had this confirmation of action sooner,” Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council for this month, told reporters after the session.

Nonetheless, “he urged the Government of Syria to start immediately and to ensure that forces move no further into population centres,” she said. “And as he related, that commitment was provided by the Syrian authorities.”

Mr. Annan was appointed Joint Special Envoy earlier this year to try to resolve the crisis in Syria, where more than 8,000 civilians have been killed since March 2011 when a popular uprising began.

When he was in Damascus last month, Mr. Annan put forward a six-point proposal to end the crisis that seeks to stop the violence and the killing, give access to humanitarian agencies, release detainees, and kick-start an inclusive political dialogue.

Ms. Rice noted that Syria’s commitment to complete the cessation of all forward deployment and use of heavy weapons, as well as its withdrawal from population centres, by 10 April, constitutes certain steps of that plan.

At the Friends of Syria meeting that took place in Turkey yesterday, Mr. Annan’s deputy, Nasser Al-Kidwa, had constructive exchanges with the opposition to urge them to cease their operations within 48 hours of a complete cessation of Government hostilities, Ms. Rice reported.

She said the Joint Special Envoy said he is expecting details from the Syrian Government very shortly on the other aspects of his plan, including key requests for humanitarian access, the two-hour daily humanitarian pause, as well as access for the media and the political process.

In addition, a team from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), joined by some of Mr. Annan’s staff, will travel again to Syria this week to continue preparations for a potential “monitoring and supervisory mission” of the UN.

“Mr. Annan asked the Security Council to support the April 10 deadline and, given the urgency of the situation, to begin consideration of a potential UN monitoring mission,” said Ms. Rice, adding that the head of DPKO, Hervé Ladsous, also briefed the Council on the contingency planning for such a mission.

“All members of the Security Council expressed full support for Joint Special Envoy Annan and called for his six-point plan to be implemented immediately, including a political process leading to a transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy, a key point reiterated more than once by the Joint Special Envoy,” Ms. Rice stated.

She added that some Council members expressed concern that the Syrian Government not use the next days to intensify the violence and expressed “some scepticism about the bona fides of the Government” in this regard.

“But in general, Council members expressed a willingness to consider Mr. Annan’s plan for a monitoring mission if indeed a cessation of violence is achieved,” she said.

British Syrians & Friends in Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution: LCC: Monday drew to an end with 150 martyrs in Syria, among them several women and children, 120 were martyred in Homs among them 75 unidentified bodies found in Homs Hospital, 16 martyrs in Idlib, 6 martyrs in Hama including 4 Free Syrian Army soldiers and 5 martyrs in Aleppo. To the highest heaven our beloved martyrs.

NOW! Lebanon
[local time]
 21:21 The United States said Monday it will help fund a new initiative to train Syrian investigators and document alleged abuses to ensure accountability in the bloody year-long crackdown on protests.
 19:31 Syria has agreed to “immediately” start pulling troops out of protest cities, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said Monday but Western nations quickly expressed doubts that the new promises would be kept.
 19:28 The United States and other western nations are skeptical that Syria will keep to a promise to start implementing a peace plan by April 10, the US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Monday.
 18:47 Italy on Monday called on Syrian opposition groups to be “cohesive” and urged the UN Security Council to set a timeline for further pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
 18:26 Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to start implementing a peace plan by April 10, but UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council on Monday there has been no progress yet in halting the bloodshed.
 18:12 The crackdown in Syria has killed 10,108 people since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted last March, the head of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said on Monday.
 18:04 UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on Monday briefed the UN Security Council on his efforts to halt the bloodshed in Syria amid new shelling of opposition strongholds by government forces.
 18:02 The Syrian army’s shelling of the Homs town of Deir Baalba killed 13 people, activists told Al-Jazeera.
 17:59 Monday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 47 people, most of them in Homs and Edleb, activists told Al-Jazeera.
 17:49 Seventy-five bodies belonging to unknown people were found in one of the hospitals of Homs, activists told Al-Arabiya.
 17:30 NATO’s chief on Monday said the alliance was opposed to providing arms to the Syrian opposition seeking to counter a regime crackdown, warning that it would fuel a proliferation of weapons in the region.
 16:14 Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger is travelling to Syria Monday where he will meet ministers over humanitarian and detention issues, the ICRC relief agency said.
 16:02 The Syrian security forces arrested 25 activists in the town of Moadamiya near Damascus, activists told Al-Arabiya.
 15:16 A leading rebel on Monday blamed the global community for failing to protect the Syrian people, saying it was ignoring the regime’s “massacres” by refusing to arm the insurgents.
 15:12 The Syrian army is shelling the towns of Kafr Houd and Tarmissa near Hama, activists told Al-Jazeera.
 15:02 Syrian security forces killed 30 people on Monday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
 15:01 Russia on Monday rejected Arab and Western calls for a deadline to be set for the Syrian regime’s implementation of a peace plan put forward by international mediator Kofi Annan.
 13:50 A Russian navy destroyer will dock at the Syrian port of Tartus in the coming days after setting out on a planned mission to the region, agencies quoted military officials as saying Monday.
 13:15 Syrian security forces killed 24 people on Monday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
 12:40 Syrian forces shelled Rastan on Monday, Al-Arabiya quoted the Free Syrian Army as saying, adding that casualties were reported.
 12:37 Syrian forces shelled Homs’ neighborhoods of Al-Bayyada and Deir Baalba on Monday, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying, adding that casualties were reported.
 11:36 Russia said on Monday that the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul at the weekend contradicted the objective of reaching a peaceful settlement that could end more than a year of bloodshed.
 11:30 Syrian security forces killed 14 people on Monday, most of whom were in Edleb and Homs, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
 11:14 Syrian forces Monday pressed their crackdown on dissent, killing at least three civilians and wounding many as they pounded rebel strongholds in the country’s restive north, a monitoring group said.
 11:13 A Syrian government newspaper said on Monday that a weekend meeting in Istanbul of what it called the “Enemies of Syria” was a failure for those seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
 10:45 Syrian forces burned the homes of activists in Daraa’s Dael on Monday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
 10:33 Iranian Minister of Intelligence and National Security Hojjatol-Islam Heydar Moslehi said Iran had “accurate information” that Israel was behind the explosions conducted by “armed groups” in Syria, the Iranian Mehr news agency reported on Monday.
MORNING LEADER: Western and Arab nations called Sunday for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to be given a deadline to meet the terms of a peace plan as fresh clashes in a year-long uprising claimed another 40 lives.

Reuters: Annan says Syria agrees to April 10 peace deadline

Syria has pledged to withdraw all military units from towns by April 10 to pave the way for a ceasefire with rebels two days later, though Western envoys were skeptical on Monday about Damascus’ intent to halt its year-long assault on opponents.

The U.N.-Arab League peace envoy briefed the U.N. Security Council on the deadline behind closed doors, telling them there had been no reduction in violence so far, but urging them to consider an observer mission nevertheless, diplomats said.

Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, president of the 15-nation Security Council in April, said some council members “expressed concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the violence and expressed some skepticism about the bona fides of the government in this regard.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly promised to end his campaign against anti-government activists that has brought the country to the brink of civil war but has not kept his word. Annan told the council that Syrian Foreign Minister sent him a letter on Sunday saying they accepted the deadline.

“The Syrians have told us they have put a plan in place for withdrawing their army units from populated zones and surrounding areas. This plan … will be completed by April 10,” Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in Geneva.

“If we are able to verify this has happened on the 10th, then the clock starts ticking on the cessation of hostilities, by the opposition as well. We expect both sides to cease hostilities within 48 hours,” he told Reuters.

Annan met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on March 10 and presented him with a six-point plan calling for the military pullout. His spokesman said a week ago that Assad had accepted the terms, adding that the “the deadline is now”.

Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, confirmed to reporters that Damascus accepted the April 10 deadline but said the government wants the opposition on board.

“The Syrian government is committed but we are expecting Mr. Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the (opposition),” he said. “A plan wouldn’t be successful unless everybody is committed.”

Diplomats said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin expressed no reservations to the deadline when he addressed the council behind closed doors on Monday. He did not speak to reporters. Russia and China have vetoed two council resolutions condemning Assad for turning the army on civilians demanding change.

Diplomats said the Security Council might try to issue a statement in the coming days formally endorsing the deadline.

One diplomat said Annan confirmed to council members that there had been “no progress on the ground” towards halting the violence, which continues with daily reports of army shelling and shooting, and clashes with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

“Today doesn’t feel much different from yesterday or the day before, or the day before that,” opposition activist Waleed Fares said from inside Homs. “Shelling and killing.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based activist operation that collates reports from around Syria, reported 35 people killed on Monday, including eight soldiers and nine rebels, after 70 deaths on Sunday. Ten civilians were killed on Monday in the central province of Homs. In Syria’s second city of Aleppo, a bomb blast at a kiosk killed the owner, an Assad supporter, it said. At least five people were killed and eight wounded in army bombardments of villages in northern Idlib province, which borders Turkey.

Turkish officials said refugees were crossing the border at a rate of around 400 a day. Over 40,000 Syrians have taken refuge in neighboring countries since the unrest broke out a year ago, according to U.N. figures.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived in the Syrian capital Damascus on Monday to press for a daily two-hour ceasefire to evacuate wounded and deliver vital supplies to civilians, a proposal first made in February.

Despite the lack of progress, Annan urged council members to “begin consideration of deployment of an observer mission with a broad and flexible mandate”, a diplomat said.

The U.N. peacekeeping department is already planning for a ceasefire monitoring mission that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers. It would require a Security Council resolution.


For graphic on fighting


NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen repeated that the Western allies have “no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria”. He said he did not believe providing weapons would help.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar favor providing arms to the FSA. But most Arab states and Western backers of the rebels oppose that. Ja’afari blasted the support the rebels have received from abroad: “This is a violation and a declaration of war against the sovereignty of Syria.”

FSA rebels have said they will stop shooting if the army pulls heavy weaponry out of cities. But the Assad government has said it must maintain security in urban areas and there has been no sign of tanks, armor or artillery moving out.

The United Nations says Syrian soldiers and security forces have killed more than 9,000 people over the past 12 months. Damascus says rebels have killed 3,000 troops and police.

Assad blames the unrest on foreign-backed “terrorists” and has put forward his own reform program, which his domestic foes and international opponents have dismissed.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Douglas HamiltonPhilippa Fletcher, Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Anthony Boadle)

Related News:

BBC: Syria ‘agrees’ ceasefire deadlineSyria accepts a deadline of 10 April to begin implementing a six-point peace plan, UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan tells the UN Security Council….

Guardian: Syrian refugees: In their own words

Thousands of Syrians have escaped the violence and persecution that followed the Arab spring. In camps along the border, refugees talk about the dangers they face and what it means to leave their homes behind.

Abu Ali, 42, from Azmareen

Abu Ali had to leave his home in Azmareen, a small town of about 5,000 inhabitants just across the border, eight months ago. He owns several acres of olive groves and a farm that he can see from the hills on the Turkish side, but that he cannot reach. “If I return, they’ll kill me,” he says. Abu Ali used to work as a singer at village weddings, but a year ago he started to use his talent to sing anti-Assad songs at rallies in Hama. Both of his children had been in university when they had to leave, now he lives with them and his wife in a Turkish refugee camp. “I have sold my car to get by, and I have only $100 left.” He sighs. “I will have to start selling my land.”

Abu Ali is in constant phone contact with his fellow Azmareen residents. “The Syrian regime has interrupted the mobile phone coverage,” he says. “But we all use Turkish SIM cards – Turkcell covers up to 10km across the border. Bless them.”

He explains that at night the river crossing is used to smuggle food and medical supplies into Syria, and that people come to Turkey this way too. “I help as much as I can,” he says. “These are all my countrymen.”

To get to the river, you have to wade through knee-deep mud. The military police station of Hacipasa is close by, but only a pack of dogs take notice of people approaching the border, marked solely by the river. Some people have lit fires on the Syrian side of the river. Despite it being a mild spring day, the water is still very cold, and several young men take turns diving, while others try to warm up again. When they notice Abu Ali, they swim to the Turkish side to greet him. Squatting in the mud, clad in nothing but white briefs, they describe the death of their friend.

17-year-old Omar Sheikh Mohammed drowned on 20 March, running from the Syrian Army who had surrounded Azmareen. “It was dark, and the water was very cold,” a man called Nidal says, shivering himself. “He was wanted by the Syrian Army because he had participated in protest rallies, so he panicked and jumped into the water to get to Turkey.” His friends nod in agreement. “But he didn’t know how to swim, and because he was fully clothed, he just sank, we weren’t able to save him.”

Abu Ali says that they are now diving for the body of the young man. “His parents deserve at least a funeral, to find some peace of mind.” Nidal is angry that nobody feels responsible. “We asked the Turkish authorities, but they said we should come back tomorrow. We asked the Syrians, and they said: ‘Let him become fish food.’ Now we try to find his body ourselves, and risk drowning just like he did.”

Mohammed, 34, from Idlib

Mohammed, a 34-year-old police officer, had been working as a prison guard in the central Idlib prison for 11 years. “I never thought about defecting until last year,” he says. He first came to Turkey in December 2011, after hiding “in the mountains” for six weeks. In January 2012, he returned to Syria to join the Free Syrian Army, but when soldiers attacked them in the middle of March, he fled to Turkey once again, taking only what he was wearing at the time. Because both of his parents and his two-year-old son are in Syria, he wishes to remain anonymous.

For Mohammed, joining the armed struggle seemed the only possible response to what he had seen in his job as a prison guard. “In April 2011, there were protest rallies in Idlib,” he says. “About 320 people were arrested and put in jail.” He says that all of these political prisoners received a “reception” on their arrival in the central prison: “On the 700 metres between the front and the main gate, prisoners were beaten with sticks, electric cables and water hoses.” He did not take part in the beatings. “They were all fellow Idlib residents. How could I have hit them?”

In the subsequent weeks and months, Mohammed witnessed torture and abuse inside the prison: beating, stress positions, electrocution. He lights another cigarette and takes a deep drag before he continues. “One man lost an eye in a beating. If prisoners refused to say that ‘Assad is our leader’, they sat them down naked on to a glass bottle. The bottleneck penetrated [their anus].”

Two weeks ago, Amnesty International published a report that lists systematic torture in Syrian prisons. Mohammed says that violence was also directed against police officers if they stepped out of line: “A man came to our prison to ask if his son had been arrested and brought there. Because I told him that this was the case, I was reprimanded and incarcerated in a prison for political prisoners in Idlib for two days, and I was beaten there. Only because I told this man that his son was in prison.”

Refugees cross from Syria into TurkeyRefugees cross from Syria into Turkey near the refugee camp in Reyhanli. Photograph: Shawn Baldwin/Corbis

In November 2011 an arrest order was filed against Mohammed, because a close family member had joined the armed opposition, so he left to hide in the mountains surrounding the city, and finally entered Turkey in December. Having joined the Free Syrian Army in January, he witnessed the military operations in Idlib in mid-March: “They attacked with tanks. They evicted people from their houses and burned all of their possessions, and they burned down the houses of opposition members. Many people died.

“Thank God it was raining, so their projectiles did not reach as far. This way we were able to save several hundred people from being killed.” While he denies any sectarian bias on the side of the opposition forces, it is clear that he has some bitterness about his job status: “While I should have been promoted for the first time after two years, it took them four years to actually do it.” Mohammed is convinced that this is related to him being Sunni: “They discriminate against Sunni, and the Alawites get all the good jobs.” Now sheltered in a Turkish refugee camp, Mohammed wants to go back to Syria as soon as he feels strong again: “Someone needs to do something. So many people in Syria live in poverty. And 40 years is too long for any government.”

Rawja, 25, from Jisr al-Shughour

Spring has come late to the Turkish province of Hatay this year, and for the first week in months, the rain has stopped. At 11 in the morning, it is already stifling hot inside the tents in Altinözü refugee camp, just across the Syrian border, but the children inside one of the school tents, where Arabic-speaking Turkish teachers follow a Turkish curriculum, diligently follow the lesson.

Rawja visits her two sons, four and five years old, in the nursery tent, where about 20 children are gathered around low tables, painting, colouring, or playing with putty. Her younger son bites his lips in concentration while working on his colouring book. The refugee camp in Altinözü houses 2,000 of the 17,000 Syrians who have so far crossed the border, according to Suphi Atan, a camp co-ordinator for the Turkish foreign ministry.

Rawja came to Turkey two months ago for the first time. “We stayed for a little while, and then we went back home again,” she says. “But because things were not improving [in Syria], we returned to Turkey one month ago, and now we are here, waiting.” She is impatient to return to her house in Jisr al-Shughour, though she is not sure if it still stands: “I heard that half of our house was destroyed, and that my neighbours have lost their homes. Many people have died.”

While Rawja does not feel at home in the Altinözü camp, others have tried to settle down as much as possible under the circumstances. One of her neighbours in the tent city, 21-year-old Sabiha who has been here for 10 months, met and married her husband in the camp. A few metres from Rawja’s own tent, a 25-year-old man from Jisr al-Shughour has constructed a coop for his doves, all 30 of which he brought with him in boxes when he fled Syria. Some people have opened semi-legitimate businesses to get by. There are two “cornershop” tents and one bakery – “Revolution Bakery” has been scribbled on the tent – where, the two bakers say, they sell bread at Syrian prices.

Rawja’s husband is active in the armed opposition. With his help and the help of his contacts, they were able to cross the mountains unharmed to come to Turkey. She explains that not everybody was this lucky: “Many more want to come, but they are afraid. There are soldiers controlling the roads, it is dangerous.” Her husband, who lives in the Altinözü refugee camp with her, often crosses into Syria to transport supplies, and to escortrefugees to Turkey: “My husband is wanted in Syria, but he keeps going there. Every time he leaves me I am afraid that I will never see him again. We fight a lot, I don’t want him to go, but he doesn’t listen.”

While she says that the Turkish authorities take good care of them in the refugee camp, she is unhappy here: “I cry every day. God willing this war will end soon, so we can all go home.”

Salwa, from Latakia

The walls of the room are empty except for a makeshift Syrian flag pieced together from pieces of cloth and a frilly Christmas tree made from crêpe paper. 17-year-old Reem laughs. “I really wanted a Christmas tree, so I made us one,” she explains in flawless English. “We celebrate all the holidays in our family. Christmas or Eid Al Adha, it doesn’t matter.”

A tall woman wearing her hair at chin-length, her mother Salwa is a psychologist who ran her own practice in Latakia before she and her two teenage daughters decided to give up their rental apartment and sell everything they owned to come to Turkey in June 2011. “Things were getting too difficult, and I started to be really afraid for my family.”

Since they had valid Syrian passports, Salwa and her two daughters Reem and 19-year-old Asra came into Turkey at a regular border crossing. Turkey lifted visa requirements for Syrian citizens in 2009, but now their passports have expired. “We do not want to attract too much attention around here,” Salwa says, lighting a cigarette. “If the Turkish authorities find us, they will put us in one of the refugee camps.”

Reem was in her last year of high school when they left. “I wanted to go to college and study psychology too,” Reem says. “It is very hard here. Because I don’t speak Turkish, I haven’t been able to find a job. We do not want anyone’s pity or help. I would like to work, but nobody employs me.”

As Amnesty International has repeatedly pointed out, Turkey still refuses to grant refugee status to nationals from outside Council of Europe countries, leaving people such as Salwa, Asra and Reem, who are fleeing a conflict zone, in a legal vacuum. “We have no right to work, go to school or open a business,” Reem says. “We haven’t been able to do anything for almost a year.” Just like other Syrian refugees who prefer not to live inside one of the refugee camps, they have no access to free healthcare either.

Four months ago, Asra found work in a local restaurant where she works 10 hours a day and seven days a week to support the rest of the family. “My mum and I are mostly at home,” Reem says. “We are on the internet all day; we watch the news on TV to see what happens in Syria.”

Living in a predominantly Alevi neighbourhood in Antakya, Salwa explains that she now introduces herself and her daughters as Palestinian to everyone she meets, just in case. “In our old apartment people knew we had come from Syria, and the police came twice to check our documents.” Reem adds: “People in Turkey always ask if you are Sunni or Alevi. I stopped answering that question because I am worried of what they might do if I tell them that I am Sunni.” Salwa nods. “This question used to be irrelevant in Syria, nobody would ask it.” She is afraid that her country might slide into a bloody civil war soon. “Now it seems your sect is all people care about.”

Syrian children in Altinözü refugee camp, TurkeySyrian children in Altinözü refugee camp, Turkey Photograph: Constanze Letsch

Um Eddine, 32, from Daraa

Um Eddine is a teacher and mother of four. She left her home in Daraa after receiving death threats and arrived in Jordan in the middle of March. Her husband was arrested by the Assad regime in December. She says the threats started last year. “In July last year, government security appeared, knocking at the front door. I looked out of the window and saw a lot of heavily armed men wearing black. They weren’t soldiers, they were Shabiha [militia loyal to the Assad regime]. They were knocking with such force I opened the door immediately. They stormed in asking where my husband was. I told them that honestly, I didn’t know, and they called me a liar. They started tearing off the curtains and destroying the furniture.”

One officer advised her that after they left she should lock the door and not open it to anyone again. “Shortly after that, my husband called and told me never to accept a call from his number again. This made me really afraid.” Her husband was arrested in December. “I have no idea where he is now.”

She made the decision to leave after tanks entered the city late in February. “Many people were slaughtered,” Um Eddine says. “They just ran over them with the tanks. Walking home from school to my mother’s home that day, blood ran in the streets. When I got to her home, everything had been destroyed or stolen. It was impossible to stay there. My neighbours told me, come and see your house. I went to pick up some things but there was nothing left to take. There was nothing else to do. We had to be smuggled into Jordan.”

They travelled on a cold night, four or five families all together, women and children. They took nothing. “We walked through the farms. Once we reached the edge of Daraa, the young people told us to walk the next 1km to the border in complete silence. I asked why, we have young children. They told me that all along the top of the mountains are government soldiers. If they hear anything, they shoot immediately. We would all be killed.

“We all thought we were going to die. We refused to stop and rest. The young people helped me carry my children. We had to cross a mountain and then we reached a small barbed-wire fence. I was carrying my youngest two, but the older two boys were walking ahead. They had become tangled in the barbed wire but were too afraid to call out for me. When I crossed I couldn’t find them. So I went back to Syrian land to find them. They were calling to me softly: ‘Mum, help, I’m caught.’ I found them and released them as quickly as I could. I picked up the two little ones and told the other two to hold on to my dress.”

Jordanian soldiers met them. “My three-and-a-half year-old asked me, why do these soldiers gave us tea while the ones at home kill people? I said: ‘Because that is Syria.'”

“My sons haven’t gone to school for a whole year. They haven’t been able to play in the streets for a year. In Daraa, they were in a state of fear the whole time. I’m planning to start a new life here, planning to erase the last 32 years of my life – forget they ever happened.

“I pray that I will see my husband again. I pray for him and all those who are arrested.”

Abu Shadi, 40, Damascus

Abu Shadi, a married father of three used to work for the Syrian water ministry in Damascus. He and his brothers claim to have led the uprising in their suburb on the the outskirts of the capital. As a result of his activism, he is wanted by the Syrian government. He fled to Jordan in October last year and now lives in Amman with his older brother.

“One evening, my brother and I we were watching the news. They were talking about what was happening in Tunisia and Egypt, and the commentators said Syria will be next. We looked at each other and said: ‘Why don’t we do it?'”

Abu Shadi says that before the uprising he was never bold enough to talk politics, even with his brother. But the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings changed all that. “It took them a few weeks to bring down their governments. I thought it would take us 20 days. That was our initial intention. Now we’ve reached a stage where they are killing young children.”

Initially they did little more than graffiti. The first march attracted only a couple of dozen people. “But it was like dominos,” Abu Shadi says. “The next Friday, 2,000 turned up. We were shouting and they were shooting. They were afraid even though we had no weapons.”

The town is surrounded by the fourth and fifth brigades of the army. It used to house 23,000 people. “Now there’s no one there, only old people and children. The rest have fled.”

Abu Shadi escaped in October. His family came afterwards. “I came legally, before they had wanted lists at the border. Even though I’m away from Syria, it’s not out of my mind for even a second. I can’t live without it. We will definitely return, God willing. All our property, everything is in Syria. I’ll only stay one or two months here, then I’ll return.

“I was an activist before the uprising and I am still an activist even now, in Jordan. I’m still doing all I can to help. I do many things, but I don’t want to talk about them now. It’s not necessary.

“I want a government elected by the people that is democratic and fair. Those involved in torture should be put to trial. That would be fair.”

Some names have been changed at the request of interviewees.