Fadia answers journalists' questions shortly after crossing the Lebanese border in Masnaa, on September 4, 2013
Syrian refugee Fadia answers journalists' questions shortly after crossing the Lebanese border in Masnaa, on September 4, 2013. The wife and mother of Syrian rebels tells AFP she refused to leave her war-torn country until the very last minute despite the violence ravaging her home city, the capital Damascus. © Anwar Amro - AFP
Fadia answers journalists' questions shortly after crossing the Lebanese border in Masnaa, on September 4, 2013
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Mohamed Hasni, AFP
Last updated: September 5, 2013

Rebel mother resisted until the end before fleeing Syria

The wife and mother of Syrian rebels, Fadia refused to leave her war-torn country until the very last minute despite the violence ravaging her home city, the capital Damascus.

But she finally made the decision to go, pushed by her son who feared for her safety if the United States decided to launch military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's regime over a suspected poison gas attack.

"Leave. I'm staying here," he told his mother in a final meeting after Fadia had spent seven days having to negotiate with rebels in the war-ravaged Barzeh district of the Syrian capital.

So the 36-year-old, accompanied by her two youngest children, joined the wave of desperate refugees entering Lebanon, Syria's tiny neighbour that is bearing the biggest brunt of this humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations said Tuesday that more than two million Syrians have fled the bloody violence in their country -- eight times more than a year ago -- and 716,000 of these are now in Lebanon.

And with the looming threat of a US-led strike against the country as US President Barack Obama lobbies Congress for approval that could come as early as next week, the stream of refugees shows no signs of abating.

The sheer number of people fleeing Syria is a problem for Lebanon, which refuses to set up camps for fear that the refugees will settle permanently.

Sitting in a tiny charity centre in Masnaa, the border crossing with Syria, Fadia recalled with tears in her eyes the loved ones she left behind: her father, her 18-year-old daughter, her two grandsons and the rebel child.

"I held onto him, I didn't want to let go of him," she said, describing the moment she bid him farewell.

"But it had become intolerable, especially for my two youngest children.

"Women are raped, innocent people are massacred. We would choke on the putrid whiffs coming from decomposing bodies," she said.

Her district in Damascus had been almost completely deserted of inhabitants amid fighting between armed forces and rebels.

Married when she was 14 and the mother of four children, her eldest son Tareq fights with the Ahrar al-Sham rebel group.

Her husband was the first to take up arms, but he was wounded in the leg and smuggled into Lebanon where he is slowly recovering.

The only one among the new arrivals who accepted to talk to AFP, Fadia looked resigned, her lost-looking 11-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son clinging onto her black coat.

The other refugees who came to fetch a basic basket of supplies at the welcome centre clammed up straight away at any attempt to engage them in conversation.

"They're scared because the Syrian regime has networks in Lebanon and... they fear for their families left in the country," one humanitarian worker said, refusing to reveal his name.

For Fadia, the prospect of a US-led strike on the country was the last straw after suffering for several years in a brutal armed conflict that began in March 2011 with a rebellion against the Assad regime.

"It was an additional reason to leave the country, on top of hunger, of fear and deprivation," she said.

Omar Mohammed al-Louays, who heads up the charity's welcome centre, said his team used to help around 40 to 60 Syrian families a day before the suspected poison gas attack hit Damascus suburbs on August 21, allegedly killing hundreds.

"Since then, the number ranges between 80 and 120 families a day," he said, adding that most refugees pass through his centre, which belongs to a Lebanese charity financed by Qatari benefactors.

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