Middle East

Syrian refugees reach Lebanon with tales of brutality

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Media captionSyrian refugees told the BBC of their experiences of the government crackdown

Thousands of Syrian refugees have fled their homes and are now seeking sanctuary in northern Lebanon.

They say life in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh has become intolerable because of the violence of the Syrian army and its armed supporters.

"It was raining bullets so we fled immediately," said one middle-aged woman who - like all the refugees - did not want to give her name.

She described how one of her relatives, having started the journey across the border, turned back in order to get her cow.

"She was shot in the head and she was killed."

Another relative, an aunt, was shot in the leg, she said. The injured woman lay stranded on the ground until a Lebanese soldier tried to rescue her. He too was injured as he dragged her to safety.

"We came through the mountains and rocky terrain," said one man who had made it out.

"We crawled for five hours because of snipers and tanks that had circled Tal Kalakh. It was very hard to cross."

As he spoke he overlooked a patch of open ground that led to Syria. There was no sign of human activity on the Syrian side of the border.

Beaten with sticks

Another man who had fled to Lebanon had taken pictures on his mobile phone before he left.

They showed Syrian security forces beating people with sticks. The victims sat or lay on a pavement, cowering from the blows.

The official Syrian news agency, Sana, gave a very different account of what was happening in Tal Kalakh.

It quoted local residents as saying that armed gangs had moved into Syria from Lebanon to create chaos.

"They hit my husband and ordered us to bring them weapons," the news agency quoted one villager as saying.

But the refugees insisted their version was correct.

They said the trouble in Tal Kalakh began with a protest demanding the release of local people who had been arrested and who were being held at a local air field.

Many refugees said that once they had crossed into Lebanon they received a warm welcome.

Some Lebanese families are looking after the Syrians because they are relatives, but others have opened their homes to complete strangers.

"I think I have 15 people staying but I have not counted," said one woman who wanted to remain anonymous.

She sat on the floor of her home preparing a huge bowl of beans so she could feed her unexpected guests.

"Does anyone have a house and not open it up to people who would have to sleep on the streets? This is the will of God. I just hope the situation will improve," she added.

Ali Badawi, the Mayor of Rama which is one of 23 villages in the Lebanese district of Wadi Khaled, said most people came five days ago.

"There are now around 5,000 people," he said.

Despite the difficulties of moving across the border, in some places people were going back into Syria to retrieve clothes and money left behind in the initial rush to get out.