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Wounded Rebel Fighters Escape Syria for Treatment

  • Henry Ridgwell

A fighter from the Free Syrian Army lies on a hospital bed in the southern town of Reyhanli in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 20, 2012.

A fighter from the Free Syrian Army lies on a hospital bed in the southern town of Reyhanli in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 20, 2012.

The opposition Free Syrian Army is sustaining heavy casualties in its fight with Syrian government forces. The injured said they cannot get treatment in Syria because they would be arrested.

With deep wounds to his head and arms, a fighter with the Free Syrian Army lies partially-paralyzed on a hospital bed in the Turkish city of Antakya.

Still by his side is his comrade in arms - who said he carried his friend from the battlefield in Syria on a seven-hour journey over the border. Both men asked to hide their identities.

“We were frightened that we would be discovered,” said the wounded man’s friend. “So we camouflaged ourselves with tree branches and managed to get across.”

The young men said they are lucky not to have been captured.

“There are so many soldiers along the border,” added the FSA fighter, “and the government forces are looking for anyone trying to escape to Turkey.”

The Syrian army has reinforced its positions along the border. When VOA visited the town of Guvecci overlooking Syria in December, there were no Syrian soldiers.

Now a zoom lens captures troop positions in watchtowers; locals point to artillery positions hidden in the hills. Activists say the troops open fire on anyone trying to cross; and claim the olive groves have been mined.

Videos posted online are impossible to verify. But they match accounts from FSA fighters who said Assad’s forces are using heavy artillery, including helicopter gunships, against towns and villages just over the border.

VOA met another FSA fighter outside a private hospital in Antakya. He said he was lucky to survive deep shrapnel wounds he sustained when government forces attacked his home town of Al Janoudia.

“The Assad forces weren’t targeting anything in particular.” He said. “They were firing anywhere, it lasted from 6am to 11am. They completely destroyed two buildings… there were women, children and old people inside. They all died. Then soldiers came into the village.”

He said the soldiers stole the villagers’ food, burned their houses, and raped many of the women.

In a basement safehouse in Antakya, Syrian activists greet each other like old friends. They meet every night to plot the next mission to smuggle vital supplies into Syria.

Such missions like this are a vital lifeline for the opposition. But as government forces strengthen their positions along the border, they are becoming more dangerous by the week.

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