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Kristof: A guilt-ridden mother flees Syrian war zone

  • Syrian refugees wait in line for a bread ration at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. (LYNSEY ADDARIO / New York Times)

ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — Those Americans who count themselves as “war-weary” should meet Fawzia, a middle-aged woman who made perhaps the most difficult decision any parent can.

Fawzia was among the refugees straggling across the Syria-Jordan border here. She had just arrived on a dangerous weeklong journey from Ghouta, a Damascus suburb where nerve gas killed hundreds on Aug 21. But for Fawzia, chemical weapons are secondary. The real weapons of mass destruction in Syria are the AK-47s, rockets, missiles and bombs. An agreement brokered by the world's powers that is limited to chemical weapons — while useful — seems a bit irrelevant to the atrocities that define the lives of most Syrians.

No one in Fawzia's family was hurt in the chemical weapons attack, but then there was a ferocious conventional shelling of her neighborhood. Her family members scattered in terror, and Mustafa, her 8-year-old son, disappeared. No one knows what happened to him.

Fawzia decided to flee with two children to Jordan, in hopes of saving them, possibly sacrificing Mustafa. She is racked by guilt.

The United Nations refugee agency, which runs this Zaatari camp, is accustomed to tragedy. An aid worker gently told her how to register Mustafa's name in case he turns up somewhere.

Talking to Syrians like Fawzia, it seems bizarre and narcissistic that in Washington there is talk of whether the Syrian crisis has been “resolved.” Maybe the politicians' crisis there has been eased, but the humanitarian catastrophe here just gets worse.

Indeed, in the last couple of weeks, President Bashar Assad seems to have stepped up the pace of bombing, shelling and other conventional attacks on civilian areas.

Fawzia says she would like to see American missile strikes on her country, in hopes that an assault would degrade the Syrian army's capacity for mass murder and shorten the war. That seems by far the most common view among refugees here, although it's not universal. Some worry about civilian casualties or think a strike would be too little, too late.

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