Wednesday 26 September 2012
Last Update 26 September 2012 5:00 pm
NEW YORK: UN chief Ban Ki-moon yesterday said the Syria “calamity” is turning into a global crisis as US President Barack Obama led growing calls for an end to Bashar Assad’s rule.
Angry over harsh living conditions in their desert tent camp in Jordan, dozens of Syrian refugees clashed with Jordanian police, hurled stones and smashed charity offices and a hospital, officials and refugees said yesterday. The rioting late Monday in the Zaatari camp was the worst violence since the facility opened in July near the Jordan-Syria border. About 26 policemen were injured by stones thrown by the refugees, a police official said.
A Syrian refugee in the camp, Abu Nawras, said police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters who were demanding improved conditions, better food and education for their children.
The camp, which hosts about 32,000 Syrians who fled the civil war at home, has seen smaller protests in the past weeks as refugees mostly complained about snakes and scorpions, and demanded their tents be replaced with trailers so they can better protect themselves from the scorching sun, cold nights and ubiquitous dust.
Jordan alone has taken in some 200,000 Syrians — the largest number in the region — while Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq have taken in the rest. The Jordanian police official said Monday’s violence erupted when about 150 refugees started hurling stones at security officers, torched a tent and attacked the offices of a Jordanian charity responsible for the camp and a Moroccan field hospital.
Abu Nawras, the Syrian refugee, said many of the Zaatari residents, disillusioned with the conditions there, are now demanding to go back to Syria. But a representative for the UN refugee agency in Jordan, Andrew Harper, said it would not be safe for them to return home now.
“People vented their frustration in a way that is unacceptable in any environment, by throwing stones at buildings, damaging buildings, injuring a number of staff,” Harper said. “It was a particularly ugly situation, which is now under control.”
In response to the refugee riot, scores of Jordanians took to the streets in the nearby town of Mafraq, demanding the Syrians be sent home, Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah said. The Jordanian protesters denounced what they described as “ingratitude” by the refugees to their host country.
Meanwhile, a Syrian rebel commander, Col. Kassem Saadeddine, has escaped an assassination attempt by pro-regime forces unscathed, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said yesterday.
“Col. Saadeddine’s convoy was ambushed by shabbiha (pro-regime militiamen) after midnight in Salmiyeh in Hama province” in central Syria, Fahd Al-Masri said.
“A large battle ensued and the shabbihas were killed. The colonel was saved,” Masri said. Saadeddine, a defector from Assad’s forces, is the chief rebel commander in the central province of Homs and also the official FSA spokesman inside Syria.
The ambush came as Saadeddine was returning from the northern city of Aleppo, the current focal point of the conflict, after meeting regional rebel commander Col. Abdel Jabbar Al-Okaidi, Masri added.
In a separate development, a top lawyer said yesterday the nephew of slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was among six jihadists arrested in Jordan last week as they tried to cross into Syria.
“Jordanian border guards on Saturday arrested six mujahideen, including Abu Asyad, the nephew of Zarqawi, as they attempted to go to Syria for jihad,” Musa Abdullat, a leading lawyer for groups, said.
Jordanian-born Zarqawi was killed in an air strike by the US military in Iraq in 2006. “They are expected to be charged and jailed for between five and 15 years,” Abdullat said.
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