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Jordan Seeks More Security Guarantees


[10/2/2017 6:55:35 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan hopes a cease-fire it helped negotiate in neighboring southern Syria will eventually lead to a secure border, the reopening of a vital trade crossing and a gradual return home for Syrian war refugees who sought asylum in the kingdom.

For now, these goals seem out of reach as key security concerns remain unanswered.

Fighting has decreased significantly in southern Syria ---a patchwork of areas under government or rebel control --- since the truce was negotiated by Russia, the United States and Jordan in July.

But Jordan still seeks guarantees from Syrian President Bashar Assad and his backers, Russia and Iran, that moderate opposition fighters and civilians will not be harmed as government forces continue to advance in the southeast, despite the truce. The pro-Western monarchy also wants to see Iranian-backed forces kept away from Jordan's border, and is concerned about a potential resurgence of extremist opposition groups.

Jordan has received "mixed messages" about Assad's intentions, one official said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. He said Jordan fears destabilization and renewed refugee flows if Assad opts for retaliation.

Despite a slight rise in returns, Syrian refugees in Jordan also seem to be hedging their bets. The U.N. refugee agency said 1,830 refugees returned voluntarily to Syria in July and August, compared to 1,700 between January and June.

Separately, aid officials have said Jordan has deported Syrian refugees --- about 400 a month since the beginning of 2017, according to a report on Monday by the group Human Rights Watch.

A Jordanian official previously acknowledged that some refugees were being deported on security grounds, without providing a number, but denied they were being expelled without recourse. The government said in a statement on Monday that the return of refugees is voluntary and that Jordan complies with international law.

Abdulrahman al-Ahmad, 32, went back to his opposition-held hometown of Busra al-Sham in Syria's southern Daraa province, worn out by five years in exile. It's a one-way ticket for most, since Jordan generally bars re-entry of those who left.

With his house destroyed, al-Ahmad now lives with displaced people in another building. Residents have one hour of electricity per day and buy water from private wells at exorbitant prices, he said. Jobs are scarce and medical care largely unavailable, including for his 3-year-old son who needs a nose operation.

He said he would fight if government forces retake his hometown.

*AP

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