Page last updated at 16:57 GMT, Thursday, 23 June 2011 17:57 UK

Syrian refugees tell of rape, murder and destruction

Watch Kholood and Qotayba tell their stories about the Syria refugee crisis

Newsnight's Shaimaa Khalil hears testimony in Lebanon from Syrians who have fled their country after protests which have reportedly left 1,100 people dead, hundreds more injured and thousands under arrest.

KHOLOOD - A PROTESTING MOTHER

"You have to cover my face and change my voice otherwise they'll know it's me," Kholood says.

"They have been watching us and they have my name on the wanted list for protesting."

Kholood (not her real name) is a mother of four who, like thousands of other Syrian refugees, fled the border town of Talkalakh into the Wadi Khaled region in northern Lebanon after the Syrian army and security forces began their crack down on protesters.

Arida, the Lebanese village where Kholood and her family are now staying is only a stone's throw away from the Syrian border.

You can see Syrian flags fluttering in the breeze and Syrian army personnel patrolling across the border - too close for the refugees' comfort.

"When we saw what happened in Deraa, Banyas and Talbiseh, and how the people came out like they did we thought, 'why not us? We should come out too!' and we did and called for the fall of the regime."

But the situation turned deadly when the Syrian security forces arrived in Talkalakh last month with tanks and armoured vehicles to crack down on protesters.

"There was non-stop shooting. When I looked out of the window I saw destruction all around. Glass everywhere. They had bulldozed some houses to the ground."

Kholood continues: "That night we decided to flee. I crossed the bridge with my husband and youngest son."

"We were all so scared. Some of the people that fled with us were shot on the way. Some were badly wounded and some died before reaching Wadi Khalid."

Kholood was also fearful of being raped:

"I left Talkalakh to protect my honour. When we talk to our relatives in Banyas, Homs and Talbiseh they tell us horrifying stories. They told us that so many women were raped. These men don't fear God."

When I ask her about her three sons, aged 16 to 21 who chose to stay behind in Syria, Kholood bursts into tears.

"I'd be lying if I told you I didn't want them here with me. I want to tell them to come here, but instead I tell them they should stay and be strong and fight."

"They are my children. I love them, but we have to sacrifice if we want victory. This is much stronger than a mother's love," she cries.

When I ask if she hopes to one day return to Syria, Kholood looks at me defiantly.

"When the regime falls," she says. "And it will fall, inshallah."

QOTAYBA - A SOLDIER WHO SWITCHED SIDES

"They gave us orders to fire heavily at unarmed civilians," Qotayba al Akkari tells me.

"There was random shooting at people, no distinction between women, children, armed or unarmed men. Many, many were killed, many unarmed civilians."

A Syrian army soldier, he fled to Lebanon and is now sitting among a group of Syrian activists.

"Our commanding officer would say: 'There's so much ammunition, no one is going to ask you where it went. Fire!'"

"I would fire in the air or at empty buildings because I knew that if they found out I wasn't firing they'd detain me or kill me."

"At first, I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown I was so surprised at all that was happening around me but after a while I got used to it and all the dead bodies."

"Soldiers have no idea what goes on in Syria. They don't allow us to watch any news channels except Syrian TV. They would accuse us of treachery if they caught us watching Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya or BBC."

"There was also no contact between soldiers and their families, the mobile phone coverage was so bad. But even when the soldiers did manage to speak to their families, the families wouldn't dare say that anything was wrong. The soldiers would ask 'is everything ok?' and the families would say 'Yes, all fine.'"

Qotayba says that he now feels free, but that one day he will return to Syria, to fight with other soldiers who have defected.

"I'm not afraid anymore," he tells me.

IBN TALKALAKH - A SHOP OWNER TURNED ACTIVIST

"Call me, Ibn Talkalakh," the young textile shop owner tells me.

The name means 'The son of Talkalakh'.

Ibn Talkalakh is also a Syrian activist who has recently come out of prison.

"When the people of Deraa moved I thought 'that's it!' we have to do something."

"It was very difficult in the beginning. People were scared. The tanks came and they started shooting everywhere and destroying homes. They were arresting people who went out to demonstrate and they came for me."

"It was my brother and I in the house and from the moment they (the security forces) came in they did not stop beating us. They beat us with electric batons and tied our hands behind our backs and made us kneel in front of them, insulting us the whole time."

"They blindfolded me and took to prison. They put me in a small cell. We were about 50 people in that cell, it was so crowded."

Ibn Talkalkh was in prison for 20 days and says he was regularly beaten and tortured.

"Once they beat me so hard on the back of my head blood filled my eyes, I couldn't see anything. When they interrogated me they would tie my wrists and leave me hanging for hours."

He shows me the marks on his wrists.

"They put me in a room where I could hear others being tortured. I'd hear their screams, their pleas and it would fill me with fear."

"I'll never forget, during one interrogation, I was hanging with hands tied up and the interrogator came up to me and said: 'Listen boy, it is Bashar al-Assad or no-one. We'll never hand Syria over to you.'"

Yet despite the horrific time that Ibn Talkalakh had while in prison he tells me that he also found it inspiring.

"I met so many people with a much stronger will than mine. I met people from all walks of life - doctors, farmers, lawyers - many people who are willing to go out and take to the streets and keep asking for our rights even if it meant going to prison again."

"It filled me with hope that justice will come and that this regime will fall. It made me more determined to come out and keep fighting."

These interviews were conducted in Wadi Khaled on the Lebanon-Syria border on 16-17th June 2011. The BBC cannot verify the authenticity of these testimonies.



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