Syrian protesters with old Syrian flags 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
WADI KHALED, Lebanon - On the last Muslim holiday in August, 10-year-old Sindous fled on foot with her family from the shelling and bloodshed in Syria's town of Tel Kalakh, where her father was shot dead.
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Two months later, for the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha, the skinny, brown-eyed girl in jeans and a fading pink sweater says there is no cause for joy in the cold, grey, abandoned school where her family has taken refuge with 17 other families.
"My father's dead. Our home was destroyed. There's nothing here to celebrate. I don't feel like it is Eid this year," she said, watching refugee children play in the muddy schoolyard.
More than 3,800 Syrians have registered with the United Nations refugee
agency UNHCR in north Lebanon, which borders Syria's Homs province,
after fleeing a particularly bloody center of the uprising against
President Bashar al-Assad.
"My mother and everyone here says next year the regime will be gone, we
will be home for Eid. But I'm scared the regime won't fall. I'm scared
we'll stay here forever," Sindous said.
Neither she nor any other refugees would give their full name for fear
of retribution against their relatives still in the Syrian town of Tel
Kalakh, most of whom are active in the revolt against 41 years of Assad
Some who fled to north Lebanon, across a border marked by a river
trickling between green banks and thickets, say their relatives have
taken up arms against the Syrian military.
Sympathies are split in Wadi Khaled, a remote part of north Lebanon
where smuggling thrived until Syria's troubles disrupted trade. Many
families here have relatives across the border.
Villagers belonging to Assad's minority Alawite sect plaster their homes with pictures of the Syrian leader.
Sunni Muslim charities offer weekly food rations to the mostly Sunni
refugees camped out in derelict buildings. More fortunate refugees have
been taken in by local families.
Local resident Sahar Dandasha brings a few smiles to the faces of
children when she visits the school that is Sindous's temporary home
with a large plastic bag full of sweaters and dolls, eagerly snatched up
by children who flock around her.
"My friends and I gathered up some things and one clothing store offered
to help us," she said, handing out knitted sweaters. "They say no one
else has brought anything. It breaks my heart."
Dandasha, the president of a local women's charity, said the refugees
were facing the onset of winter in the mountainous region, where roads
and services are poor even for many locals.
Refugees at the school complained they had had hardly any water or
electricity for the past three days and were sharing a few oil stoves to
try to keep warm.Afraid to leave school
Many are running out of money, but say they fear to leave the school,
amid growing but unconfirmed rumors that Syria's secret police have
kidnapped dissidents hiding in Lebanon.
"We are all capable of working, but there are so many cases of
kidnappings we can't leave here," said Mustafa, an artist in his 50s who
has been at the school for seven months.
Mothers take turns cooking simple stews of beans and tomatoes on a tiny
stove, but say they have nothing special to mark an Eid holiday they
would rather forget this year.
Muslims usually celebrate Eid al-Adha, at the end of the pilgrimage to
Mecca and Medina, with new clothes and amusements for children and meals
cooked from freshly slaughtered sheep.
Sindous's mother, Subhia, says her family will not mark any more feast days until the Syrian leader is overthrown.
"The last holiday came and went with no celebrations. Now we have come
to the Eid and we are stuck here. There is nothing to celebrate, not
until Bashar falls. God curse him."
Sindous's holiday wishes are simple, yet out of reach. She begs passersby in vain to take her to the neighboring town.
"There is an Eid carnival in the next village - just like they had in
Tel Kalakh. If I could just ride the swings once, it would feel like