'Uncountable' Syrians Seek Refuge in Roman Caves

Villagers hide from government forces underground

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 24, 2013 7:43 AM CDT | Updated Mar 24, 2013 8:45 AM CDT

(Newser) – Terrified of attacks by government forces, an untold number of Syrian villagers have found an odd refuge: Roman caves. These squatters in Syria's northwest typically stock their caves with bedrolls, blankets, and kerosene lamps; one villager even put in a wood-burning box stove. But he says his children are sick and his wife's legs are swollen after a hard winter. "Now you have seen with your own eyes how we are forced to live," he tells the New York Times.

Perhaps tens of thousands of Syrians are hidden away here, in caves once used for livestock pens, crypts, or temporary dwellings in a time before Jesus. Today they are cold, damp hideouts where shelling can be heard in the distance. "Animals, like wolves, refuse to live in such places," said a man whose son had inscribed "Home" on the cave's door. "But we have to accept this." In another cave, a woman who recently gave birth in an aid station returned with her baby—to raise the child underground.

A Syrian girl, leaves a cave used as shelter from Syrian government forces shelling and airstrikes, at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.
A Syrian girl, leaves a cave used as shelter from Syrian government forces shelling and airstrikes, at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A defected Syrian policeman, Adnan al-Hamod, 33, lights a kerosene lamp at an underground cave used for shelter at Jirjanaz village, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday Feb. 28, 2013.
A defected Syrian policeman, Adnan al-Hamod, 33, lights a kerosene lamp at an underground cave used for shelter at Jirjanaz village, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday Feb. 28, 2013.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Free Syrian Army fighter, Abu Mohammed, speaks inside a cave used for shelter at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday Feb. 28, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army fighter, Abu Mohammed, speaks inside a cave used for shelter at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday Feb. 28, 2013.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
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