Jordanians live in fear of Syrian war spillover

Lyse Doucet
Chief international correspondent
@bbclysedouceton Twitter

Media caption,

The BBC's Lyse Doucet reports from the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

From the Jordanian border village of Turra, you can just discern the jagged ridge of Jebel el Sheikh mountain on the edge of Damascus, about 100km (60 miles) away.

You can clearly see the soaring white minaret of the mosque dominating the Syrian town of Tal Shihab, less than 2km away.

Syria's war itself seems even closer. At this northern border, Jordanians fear it's coming here too.

"We're so worried about a chemical attack," was the anxious refrain of residents in Turra. They fear if the embattled Syrian town of Deraa is hit, they would also suffer.

Distressing images from the recent poison gas attacks in the Damascus suburbs, widely viewed on social media and television, have provoked an anxiety that's perhaps exaggerated but understandable.

Villagers told me they hear the sound of fighting in Deraa, just a few kilometres away. They see the smoke rise. And errant missiles land on their side of the border almost every day now.

One family said a few of their neighbours had already left their homes in Turra for a safer place.

"But we have nowhere else to go," one woman told me with a resigned smile. "We're in God's hands."

And in the house next door, a wedding party was getting under way. Life has to go on, no matter what.

No 'launching pad'

Jordanians always feel the impact of neighbours' wars and tensions that erupt all too often in this region.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a wave of people fled to the kingdom, some of whom still haven't gone back. Any unrest in the occupied West Bank is felt in Jordan.

King Abdullah once described his country's fate as between "Iraq and a hard place".

But the worry among residents here that, this time, Jordan could be dragged into the fire is more pronounced.

Jordan moved more tanks into this border area in recent days as a defensive measure but insists it won't allow its territory to be used as a "launching pad" for any strikes against Syria.

Locals told us of fighters with the Free Syrian Army slipping into Syria under cover of darkness, and of weapons smuggled in the back of trucks.

As with other neighbours, lives of Jordanians and Syrians here have always been entwined - farmers, families and traders have long gone back and forth across a frontier that is barely marked.

Now it is shut, patrolled and monitored, on both sides. Syrians who've escaped along smuggling routes into Jordan have often spoken of coming under fire from Syrian forces.

Impact of war

At the so-called Syrian Market in the nearby Jordanian town of Ramtha, there aren't any Syrian goods on sale anymore. But there are more Syrians who now work here.

"I wish there could be a political solution," said Jalal, a former Syrian farmer who now sells clothes at a Jordanian market stall.

"But if not, there has to be a military strike because we must get rid of Bashar al-Assad."

Tarek, a Jordanian trader, chimed in that if there was an attack involving Western forces, "it would also come to us".

"We are already feeling the impact of his war," he explained. "The border has been closed for two years and I have to buy all my goods in China which puts prices up."

Media caption,

In Jordan, people living near the border with Syria are nervous about the impact any attack might have on them

Did he want Jordan to stop Syrians from crossing over, adding to what is already more than a half million seeking refuge in Jordanian towns and cities as well as crowded refugee camps?

"No," he insisted firmly. "We can't send Syrians away when they are dying in their country, when the war is going on."

Jordanians just don't want the worst of that war coming over the border too.