Safe in Arsal, in the highlands of Lebanon, Syrian refugees have braved the cold and fear of the Syrian army to get here. In the last few days, hundreds of ordinary people have run for the hills to escape the fierce bombardment of their towns and villages, near the border.
A father said: “The bullets were coming at us from all directions, then we escaped towards the south, which we had been told would lead us to Lebanon. But when we reached Lebanon, the Lebanese army was not letting people in. Some people took us in their car and drove us through the mountains until we reached Arsal. That was yesterday, in the snow and rain, with these children.”
Other groups say that only women and children are being allowed to cross the border. These two families went over at Al Joushe. They are among around 2,000 people who have fled Qusair and have not been stopped by the Syrian armed forces.
Hassanah Abu Firas, a refugee, said: “What are we supposed to do? People are sitting in their homes and they are hitting us with tanks. Those who can flee, flee. Those who can’t will die.”
Qusair is not much more than 20 kilometres from Syria’s border with Lebanon. The town of 40,000 people has been under siege by the army of President Bashar al-Assad for six months. Food and fuel can not get in. Weapons and medical supplies are smuggled in from Lebanon.
Residents said the bombardment began before an army assault on the town on Sunday: “A man drinking tea here was hit by a shell and killed. Assad’s troops fired it.”
Now that Homs has been crushed, other towns now await the Syrian army, such as Idlib. Only members of the rebel Free Syrian Army are staying. Women and children are sent off to try and make it to Lebanon. Most say they will wait for a change in government before they risk coming back.