The Jordanian government on Thursday issued a gruff denial that there were any shots fired between Jordanian and Syrian troops. But residents of the border villages are clear: there are gun battles happening every night in their line of sight.
We spent the night in the border village of Atorra on Friday, to investigate what is really happening on the ground.
We arrive late at night but the village is still bustling with life. The high school results have just been announced but residents are not out to celebrate. Mixed in with bangs of the fireworks is the real thing: out and out gun battles just a few hundred meters away on Tel As-Shahab.
According to Samih Maaytah, spokesman for the Jordanian government, any shooting heard is a result of the Syrian army targeting refugees trying to flee the conflict.
But as we sit with Dr. Omar’s household, right on the edge of the border, we hear two distinct sounds. The family stops our conversation any time this happens to ensure we hear the difference: the high-pitched pops of the Syrian army and the low growl of the Jordanian army guns firing back. The extended family tells us they are certain this is not the FSA versus the Syrian army.
In the backdrop, red flares temporarily light up the night sky before the darkness settles back and the firing begins again. According to Dr. Omar and his friend Abu Nabil, the Jordanian soldiers are firing partly in defense and partly to provide a cover for the Syrian refugees to escape.
Before we can question them further a white truck rumbles past us, full to bursting with Jordanian soldiers. They are driving down a road that only leads one way: the Syrian border. Dr. Omar tells us these are reinforcements, something that would only be necessary if reports of the skirmishes were accurate.
The village is almost completely surrounded by Syrian land, something which is an increasing source of worry to residents. We are driving in Abu Nabil’s car further towards the border when he suddenly stops and insists we get out to walk.
This is no man’s land, a land of shrubbery and disused farms. Abu Nabil points out the area where most of the refugees first arrive, if they come by foot. There is also an unofficial bus service that runs on the unmarked track through the border. Residents say they see it start the journey empty and come back full with refugees every night.
He turns to show us where ‘Syria’ is - in virtually every direction we look. His son has just recently gotten married, he is thinking more and more about his family’s safety. For him, evidence of the Jordanian army getting involved is particularly poignant. Abu Nabil tells us he thinks this is the first sign of the chaos encroaching on to Jordanian land.
The Kingdom has been a place of sanctuary in a neighborhood of almost constant conflict but the economic burden has been huge. Jordan now houses almost 150,000 Syrian refugees and clearly wants to avoid any further involvement in the conflict. The official denials that these border skirmishes are happening is one way to try to create the illusion that they are doing this.
By Helen Brooks and Dina Dabbous
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