AMMAN/RAMTHA – Syrian forces opened fire on a group of refugees escaping to Jordan, injuring several, including a child who was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital in Ramtha, government spokesman Samih Maaytah told the Jordan Times early Friday.
Maaitah refuted news reports that two Jordanian were injured in the incident, stressing that Syrian forces opened fire on the refugees crossing into the Kingdom.
“The Jordanian military did not respond, there were no clashes,” Maaytah told The Jordan Times.
Some news reports said Jordanian and Syrian forces exchanged gunfire in the border region early Friday morning.
But a source stationed in the border region said “minor” clashes broke out between the two sides near Syria’s Tal Shihab area, close to the Jordanian city of Ramtha, after Syrian forces opened fire on a group of 300 refugees attempting to flee into Jordan, accidentally targeting Jordanian servicemen.
Jordanian forces returned gunfire in kind, the source added, providing cover allowing for the refugees – the vast majority of whom women and children – to cross into the Kingdom.
According to the source, the incident sparked a fierce 15-minute battle in the border region, near the Jordanian village of Al Turra, during which no injuries were reported.
But Maaitah said the incident occurred on Syrian soil against the refugees and did not involve Jordanian forces.
Syria has imposed a months-long military blockade in the border region to prevent civilians from fleeing to Jordan, a campaign activists claim targets the relatives of armed servicemen, whose safety remains Damascus’s main leverage to prevent en masse defections.
Official sources and activists claim that the military crackdown has led to low-level coordination between Amman and opposition forces to ensure the safe passage of Syrian civilians, with the Free Syrian Army providing Jordan with “leads” on impending arrivals in order to mobilise vehicles and emergency medical equipment.
Although hundreds of Syrians have been wounded in their attempts to enter Jordan – many of whom fatally – Syria’s military clampdown has failed to curb a refugee influx that according to the UN has topped 1,000 persons per day.
According to the security source, Damascus has nearly doubled its border forces over the last week, prompting concerns among Jordanian officials of a potential wide-scale confrontation.
“Each day seems to become more tense than the next – any wrong move and we can enter a real state of emergency,” the source told The Jordan Times.
Maaytah denied any rise in tensions between Amman and Damascus.
The issue of refugees has become a growing point of contention between Jordan and Syria, with Damascus objecting to Amman’s ongoing open-border policy of offering shelter to civilians and army defectors alike.
In light of an ongoing Syrian exodus into Jordan sparked by intensified clashes between regime and rebel forces, Jordan has accelerated efforts to open the country’s first Syrian refugee camp in the border city of Mafraq by early next week.