Syrian Rebels Recruit New Fighters at Refugee Camp

Jordan and the UN claim they're unaware

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Nov 11, 2013 6:45 PM CST

(Newser) – Syrain rebels in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan freely acknowledge recruiting fighters in the camp, trying to bolster rebel ranks in the face of stepped up offensives by President Bashar al-Assad's forces just across the border in southern Syria. Recruiting is banned in Zaatari, and the rebel activities put Jordanian officials and UN officials running the camp in a delicate position. Wary of further increasing tensions with the government in Syria, Jordan has sought to keep its support of rebels under the radar, officially denying that any training of anti-Assad fighters takes place on its soil, though both Jordanian and US officials have acknowledged it does.

For the UN, the recruitment mars what is supposed to be a purely humanitarian mission of helping the streams of Syrians fleeing the civil war at the camp, which is home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. When an AP reporter told the head of the UNHCR's Jordan office and a Jordanian Cabinet official of the overt recruitment, both expressed surprise. But an AP reporter visiting Zaatari found rebels from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army unabashed in talking about their search for new fighters, which they say has brought in dozens of recruits in past months. "Zaatari is an exporter of fighters," says one former rebel. "We see civilians maimed, our homes destroyed and our relatives jailed, tortured or killed, so we react by recruiting and training people to fight the tyrant government back home." Click through for the full AP report.

The Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq.
The Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq.   (Mandel Ngan)
A Syrian refugee stands on top of a water tank at the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan.
A Syrian refugee stands on top of a water tank at the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan.   (Mohammad Hannon)
Yousef Abu Zeid, an 18-year-old refugee, said he was approached several times by rebels in the camp. He declined to join, saying he needs to stay to help his family.
Yousef Abu Zeid, an 18-year-old refugee, said he was approached several times by rebels in the camp. He declined to join, saying he needs to stay to help his family.   (Mohammad Hannon)
Former top Syrian army officer Abu Salim, 56, at the Zaatari refugee camp.
Former top Syrian army officer Abu Salim, 56, at the Zaatari refugee camp.   (Mohammad Hannon)
Newly arrived Syrian refugees wait for their turn to receive mattresses, blankets and other supplies, and to be assigned to tents, at the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan.
Newly arrived Syrian refugees wait for their turn to receive mattresses, blankets and other supplies, and to be assigned to tents, at the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan.   (Mohammad Hannon)
Abu Abdullah Hourani, a rebel sniper, in a Zaatari trailer, where he sipped coffee with other rebels who had slipped out of Syria and into the camp for a break of several days from fighting.
Abu Abdullah Hourani, a rebel sniper, in a Zaatari trailer, where he sipped coffee with other rebels who had slipped out of Syria and into the camp for a break of several days from fighting.   (Mohammad Hannon)
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