RAMTHA — Abu Ahmad can be forgiven for being behind on the news.
Having spent over 36 hours dodging military patrols, evading roving bands of militias and navigating the steep slopes of the Shilaleh Valley, it was only when the 60-year-old reached the Jordanian border on Thursday did he learn of the Damascus blast that killed several key members of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s inner circle a day before.
Upon arriving at the Bashabsheh holding facility in the northern town of Ramtha, his elation at the news quickly turned to indifference when he discovered that Assad and his brother Maher were not on the list of casualties.
“Unless you cut off the head,” the Daraa resident said, making a slicing motion with his bandaged hand, “the snake will continue to bite.”
Abu Ahmad is one of dozens of displaced Syrians who, although welcoming the brazen bombing on Wednesday that killed the Syrian defence minister and Assef Shawkat — Assad’s feared brother-in-law and a key adviser — doubted that the attack would bring them any closer to returning home.
Due to the regime’s reclusive inner circle, multi-layered security services and outside support from Iran, Syrians say a handful of successful assassinations — even those as high-profile as Assad’s brother-in-law — will not be enough to turn the tide in the rebels’ favour or bring an end to their plight.
“The regime isn’t one person or a handful of people,” 25-year-old Homs resident Hassan said as he carefully opened the lid of a Styrofoam box containing his first meal in over 48 hours.
“It is a faceless army that will fight to the very last man.”
Despite rattling the regime, the blast has failed to slow the violence that has sparked a mass exodus into Jordan: within hours of the attack, some 600 Syrians crossed into Jordan, security sources and the UN said, following around 1,000 who had arrived the day before.
Syrians claim that rather than slowing down the violence, which has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, the regime has “accelerated” its alleged scorched-earth campaign targeting potential rebel sympathisers.
Ahmad, a 19-year-old university student, was one of several who fled to Jordan on Thursday morning after their village in the southern province of Daraa was reportedly razed to the ground by missile-fire backed by Shabiha (roving gangs of pro-regime militias) a few short hours after the Damascus blast.
“Before, the regime was burning down houses, killing children and raping women,” claimed Ahmad. “Now, they are doing it with a vengeance.”
Despite showing the potential of rebel forces and army defectors to strike the regime without international involvement, Syrians say they expect the attack to be only the start of a drawn-out battle rather than a victory lap.
“We believe the Free Syrian Army are our saviours and one day they will liberate Syria,” Um Mahmoud said as she waited in the halls of the crowded Bashabsheh field hospital to receive painkillers for her injured teenaged son.
“But without a no-fly zone, without weapons from outside, when will this day come?”
The UN, meanwhile, worries that Operation Free Damascus — the rebel push into the capital that began earlier this week — will only place increased pressure on transit facilities and refugee camps, some of which are already holding up to five times their capacity.
By bringing the fight to the heart of Damascus, rebels have likely widened the geographic scope of the humanitarian crisis, according to UN officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, with ongoing fighting in the Syrian capital expected to displace “thousands”.
Twenty-five-year-old Ahmad is one of some two dozen Damascus residents who fled to Jordan in the last 48 hours, marking the first batch of refugees hailing from the Syrian capital since the outbreak of the 16-month-old crisis.
“We heard the rumours and saw videos on the Internet of the massacres in Homs, Daraa and Idlib,” said Ahmad, who fled his home in the Mezzeh neighbourhood with his wife and three children following the outbreak of clashes earlier this week.
“We never thought such things could happen in Damascus.”
The bomber who carried out Wednesday’s attack likely received support from within the capital, Damascene refugees said, and so they expect the regime to launch a campaign of “door-to-door” executions in an act of collective punishment similar to those carried out in Homs.
“If the regime kills and tortures people for demanding for their basic rights and freedoms, may God help the people who are blamed for this attack,” said Ahmad.
Despite welcoming the death of some of the supposed architects of a brutal crackdown that has cost the lives of thousands of civilians, displaced Syrians say their eyes remain set on a much larger goal.
“No one is going to mourn their deaths, but we don’t want revenge,” Ahmad said, holding up his coat to shade his four-year-old daughter from the sun.
“We just want to return home.”