Fear and un­cer­tainty haunt Syr­i­ans shel­ter­ing near the Golan

With Jor­dan bor­der sealed, refugees beg for aid to come via Is­rael

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

“No one knows where it’s go­ing,” said Dal­ton Thomas, founder and president of FAI Re­lief, as he checks on the tens of thou­sands of in­ter­nally dis­placed Syr­i­ans seek­ing shel­ter along­side Is­rael’s Golan Heights bor­der fence.

Since Jor­dan sealed its fron­tier with Syria last month after the As­sad regime es­ca­lated its of­fen­sive against Deraa and rebel-held ar­eas in the south, refugees near the Golan Heights have be­come com­pletely re­liant on aid tran­sit­ing Is­rael, Thomas said. The cri­sis is likely to worsen re­gard­less of whether the fight­ing con­tin­ues in south­ern Syria, he cau­tioned.

FAI Re­lief, stand­ing for Fron­tier Al­liance In­ter­na­tional, is an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian aid agency Thomas founded in Eller­slie, Ge­or­gia in 2012. The min­istry has been work­ing in Syria since 2017, part­ner­ing with Is­rael’s Op­er­a­tion Good Neigh­bor on med­i­cal mis­sions to save lives and aid refugees.

In re­cent weeks its hu­man­i­tar­ian aid has in­cluded 300 tents and more than 50 tons of aid, some do­nated by Is­raelis. Nic Walsh, an FAI Re­lief team leader, said she has seen the fear and un­cer­tainty grip­ping the south Syr­ian refugees.

“Peo­ple strug­gle to eat and sleep, and get their heads around the idea that this is the end,” she said. For them the “end” means the con­clu­sion of the Syr­ian civil war that erupted in 2011 in Deraa in which more than 500,000 peo­ple have died. Now the regime, backed by Russia’s air force and Ira­nian-sup­ported mili­tias, is clos­ing in on the rebels’ re­main­ing pock­ets.

“We have been vis­it­ing peo­ple and en­cour­ag­ing them, let­ting them know we are still go­ing to be here and sup­port them,” she said.

Thomas noted that the si­t­u­a­tion for Syria’s in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple has dra­mat­i­cally de­te­ri­o­rated in re­cent weeks after sup­ply lines from Jor­dan were cut off. Since 2011 al­most one mil­lion Syr­i­ans have fled to Jor­dan while hu­man­i­tar­ian aid flowed north from Am­man. But when the Syr­ian regime of­fen­sive be­gan in early July, Jor­dan sealed its bor­der stop­ping the aid.

Is­rael, which has been treat­ing wounded Syr­i­ans over the course of the war, does not have an aid op­er­a­tion or in­ter­na­tional NGOs to pick up from Jor­dan. But with the most re­cent in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple shel­ter­ing in Syr­ian vil­lages around Quneitra, those IDPs are re­ly­ing heav­ily on aid from the Is­raeli side, said Thomas.

“Peo­ple are say­ing there is a ton of aid stuck in Jor­dan, and are ap­peal­ing for this aid to go through Is­rael... The lo­cals see Is­rael as the life­line,” he added.

On Tues­day, Syr­i­ans with signs “ap­peal­ing to the hu­man­ity to open the bor­der” called on Is­rael to pro­vide more re­lief aid. They claimed Russia has given a “green light” to mur­der them, and that “Is­rael should work to stop bar­baric at­tacks against us now.”

With Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu meet­ing Rus­sian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wed­nes­day, their ap­peal has taken on added ur­gency.

Thomas said med­i­cal clin­ics on the Syr­ian side of the Golan are half stocked, and that there is a “gap­ing hole” in the hu­man­i­tar­ian needs. “There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in this re­gion, and they are cut off,” he noted.

FAI Re­lief is try­ing to in­fuse hope amid the sor­row of war, he said.

“Re­gard­less of what hap­pens with the [As­sad] regime, if it comes [down to the Golan bor­der] there is no way the peo­ple in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties will get what they need. They will be in just as dire a si­t­u­a­tion the day after as they were six months ago.”

No one will win in this con­flict, Thomas warned. “The work ac­tu­ally be­gins the day after. We need to take ter­mi­nol­ogy like ‘win­ning’ and ‘end­ing’ out of our vo­cab­u­lary. It [the con­flict] will just trans­form into new strife.”

(Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters)

IN­TER­NALLY DIS­PLACED chil­dren from Deraa prov­ince play to­gether on Wed­nes­day near the Golan Heights in Quneitra, Syria.

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