Saturday, January 20, 2018

Syrian border troops kill 6-year-old fleeing into Jordan

RAMTHA, Jordan — The family crept across farmland under night's cover, heading for the border, when Syrian troops opened fire. Bullets whizzed around them as they broke into a mad dash, survivors say. The 6-year-old boy, holding his mother's hand, broke away and ran ahead. He nearly made it into Jordan when he fell dead, a bullet in his neck.

The boy, killed in the early hours Friday, was the first Syrian shot to death by border guards while trying to escape into neighboring Jordan from the bloodshed of their homeland's 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad. The slaying underlined not only the dangers of the passage, but also the fine line Syria's neighbors tread when helping Syrians while trying to avoid being dragged into the conflict.

Bilal el-Lababidi and his parents were in a group of around a dozen Syrians trying to sneak into Jordan just after midnight, the latest of more than 140,000 Syrians who have taken refuge in the kingdom.

"He is a martyr who is now in a better place. I'm sure he is in heaven," said el-Lababidi's mother before the boy's burial later Friday at a cemetery in the northern Jordanian city of Ramtha. She made it across the border with her two younger sons, but her husband fled back amid the shooting.

"The criminal Bashar is the reason," she said, slapping her face with her fists as she wept. "Bashar is killing his people and the whole world is watching and doing nothing."

The family — Bilal's father, mother and the three sons— were fleeing from their southern Syrian hometown of Daraa, which was where their country's uprising began 17 months ago and which has continued to be a major battleground. Bilal's father is a corporal in the regime military but decided to defect, the mother said.

The group was slipping across farmland and olive groves between the Syrian town of Tal Shihab, near Daraa, and the Jordanian border village of Turrah. The two towns are only about a mile apart at their closest point. The border running between them is marked by a ditch with an old rusty string of barbed wire running down it.

Their group made their way to about 50 yards from the ditch, their path dimly illuminated by a half-moon and the lights of nearby Turrah. Syrian troops emerged from behind nearby trees and began shooting, said two members of the Syrian rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, who helped organize the group's escape and later spoke with those who made it across.

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