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MENAFN - Jordan Times - 24/09/2012

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A Syrian rides a motorcycle past a mosque that was destroyed during fighting between Syrian rebels and regime forces in the northern city of Azaz on Sunday (AFP photo by Miguel Medina)
(MENAFN - Jordan Times) The influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan dropped to single digits on Sunday, relief officials say, as fierce fighting between regime and rebel forces stretched into its second day.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a total of five Syrians safely crossed into Jordan on Sunday - well short of the some 600 daily crossings averaged last week and the lowest number of new arrivals in several months.

"As fighting is increasing along the border, we are seeing numbers drop lower and lower," Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative in Jordan, told The Jordan Times.

The drop comes amid fierce clashes between regime and rebel forces along the Jordanian-Syrian border as Damascus ramps up a three-week-old military offensive designed to regain control of rebels' southern strongholds.

According to security sources, hundreds of refugees were turned back from the border region early Saturday after regime forces opened fire on a group of Syrians attempting to cross into Jordan.

"Anyone who attempts to move in the southern region faces missiles from above and tank-fire on the ground," said Abu Mohammed, a Jordan-based activist affiliated with the Syrian Local Coordination Committees.

"People cannot move from house to house, let alone across the border."

The intensified fighting has prompted fresh concerns among relief officials of a "build-up" of displaced Syrians in southern Syria, warning of a brewing humanitarian crisis across the border.

"As the violence continues and more people seek safety, there are growing numbers of people seeking to cross into Jordan who simply can't," Harper said.

"These low numbers are clearly artificial and right now all we can do is prepare for when these massive groups cross through."

Activist say the intensified clashes, along with Damascus' recapture of key southern rebel strongholds Tal Shihab and Naseeb earlier this month, has "stranded" over 10,000 Syrian civilians seeking to flee to Jordan.

With Syrian forces successfully cutting off key crossing routes into Jordan and dismantling rebel safe houses, opposition forces say the would-be refugees face a "dire situation".

"We have thousands of women and children with little food or water, no shelter and living under the threat of missiles," said Abu Hani, a coordinator with the Free Syrian Army stationed in southern Syria.

"As soon as we find an opening, our priority is to get these people into Jordan," he vowed.

The issue of refugees has become a point of contention between Amman and Damascus, with Syria's ongoing policy of targeting civilians attempting to flee to Jordan having reportedly triggered fire fights between Jordanian and Syrian border forces.

Jordan follows an open-border policy, having granted refuge to over 200,000 Syrians since the onset of the crisis in March 2011.


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