Syrian refugees and jihadism pose threat to Jordan

Kerry warns of possible spillover, Italy leads the way in aid

23 May, 19:43

    Syrian children play in front of their tent at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan Syrian children play in front of their tent at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan

    (ANSAmed) - AMMAN - The third largest ''city'' in Jordan after Amman and Aqaba has risen among the desert sands on the Syrian border: the Zaatari refugee camp. Some 160,000 people - mostly women and children - are living in the camp, which has seen countless episodes of violence and uprisings. Scuffles frequently break out between Jordanian and Syrian soldiers, while hundreds of jihadists cross over into Syria to join the ranks of rebel fighters. Already struggling under the weight of an economic crisis, Jordan is understandably concerned at the prospect of being swept up in the conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry - who made a stop in Amman on Wednesday for the Friends of Syria meeting and arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday - has warned that the war in Syria is spilling over into Jordan and Lebanon. Six more people died in Tripoli over the night in clashes between those supporting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and those opposing his regime. Meanwhile, about a hundred militants from the Shiite movement Hezbollah, close ally of Damascus and Tehran, have died in fighting in Syria alongside loyalist troops, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    Most of the Hezbollah fighters lost their lives in the government counteroffensive in Qusair. Assad's army is also regaining ground in the south along the border with Jordan, where rebel sources say it has retaken several locations, such as Tel Shihab, Khirbet Ghazal and Sahem Golan. This fact may be why refugees abruptly stopped flowing across the border on Saturday evening, while previously an average of 2,500 had crossed over per day. ''We are seeing constant violence along the border, and this seems to be preventing people from reaching Jordan,'' said Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative in Amman, underscoring that hundreds of refugees may be stuck just across the border. It was across the 371 kilometers of this border that half a million refugees have entered Jordan in just over two years, the equivalent of almost 10% of Jordan's population. By the end of the year this number may double, bringing this country already suffering from a financial crisis and a perennial shortage of water and electricity to its knees. Italy, which has excellent economic ties with the Hashemite kingdom and tops the list of its EU exporters, was among the first countries to send humanitarian aid. When the Zataari camp was first opened in the summer of 2012, Italy set up a camp hospital that attends to between 400 and 500 patients every day.

    The military situation along the border also poses a threat to Jordan. Since early May there have been three incidents between Syrian soldiers and their Jordanian counterparts. Qatar and Saudi Arabia - which support the Jordanian economy through profits from the gas and oil sector - are putting pressure on Amman to let weapons and fighters pass through its territory, as they are currently doing through Turkey. Jordan is trying to resist the pressure, afraid of what the return of these militants may one day mean. Memories of what happened with Afghanistan remain fresh. Members of some Salafi groups have been arrested but an estimated at least 500 Jordanian jihadists have managed to enter Syria. Meanwhile, wildly divergent speculation is making the rounds on the U.S. contingent of 200 soldiers deployed along the border, possibly alongside other contingents. Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour has tried to deny that they are training members of the Free Syrian Army, saying that they are instead preparing Jordanian forces to deal with a possible emergency connected with Assad's chemical arsenals. (ANSAmed).

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