According to Syrian activists in Syria and Jordan, the sudden returns are a response to a call for reinforcements issued in early December by the rebel military council, the main umbrella organization of army defectors locked in a bloody war of attrition against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Activists said the response has been greatest among refugees in Jordan because pro-Assad militias in Lebanon have prevented similar returns from that country and because many Syrians in Turkey have already been involved in the fight.
Syrian rebels said the call for more forces has come as the opposition faces a critical stage in the nearly two-year conflict, with its offensive inching closer to the heart of the capital, Damascus, capturing several military bases and fending off counteroffensives on rebel strongholds in Aleppo, the southern city of Daraa and the Damascus countryside.
“Now, Jordan has become our number one source of manpower,” said Abu Hani Darawi, a Free Syrian Army coordinator whose battalions in Daraa have received the bulk of the returnees from Jordan. “We are now entering the final battles for Syria, and we need every able Syrian to join us.”
The call for recruits has sparked a steady stream of voluntary returnees from Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, close to the Syrian border. Jordanian officials are facilitating the repatriation of as many as 150 military-age Syrians every day, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
Ahmed Rifai, a 25-year-old camp resident, said gains by the Free Syrian Army in Daraa prompted him and two of his cousins to request repatriation in a bid to join the rebels.
“We can feel that Bashar’s final days are coming,” Rifai said. “We want to experience liberation day placing our boots on the neck of the regime, not cowering in a refugee camp.”
In addition to former and would-be fighters, activists said the returnees from Jordan include hundreds of doctors, nurses, lawyers and engineers who want to rebuild their homeland even as the conflict continues.
Abu Muuath Hamad, a 44-year-old paramedic, said he fled the central Syrian town of Douma after the regime persecuted him for offering help to alleged protesters. He said he sought refuge in Mafraq for six months, spending his time tending to the injuries and the rehabilitation of hundreds of wounded Free Syrian Army fighters who crossed into Jordan for treatment. On Dec. 10, he was repatriated and returned to Douma, where the rebel group appointed him chief field medic.