We have come to the end of this follow up after my first series about what is going on in Syria. I could easily write 250 pages of observations but I am going to spare you that. Instead, I am just going to write about three things: the perception of the opposition in Syria, the Shabiha and the armed opposition.
First the perception of the opposition in Syria.
It has always amassed me that the “do nothing crowd”, (i.e. The Obama administration, NATO, EU, Turkey, Arab league etc), are actually the same ones that are ACTIVELY promoting and supporting the muslim fundamentalist i.e. SNC/The Muslim Brotherhood.
One of the excuses from the west (Obama administration, NATO, EU) has always been that they don’t want to give support to extreme/fundamentalist muslims. Which is quite “funny” if it weren’t so hypocritical because that is what you EXACTLY did in Libya. You armed, trained and fought with al-Qaida and other fundamentalist groups.
So the brutal fact, which so many don’t want to admit, is that most of the opposition are normal people how just want do defend themselves from the attacks of the Assad regime. And they also want a change for the better regarding basic freedoms and liberties.
I would say that these are very reasonable demands wouldn’t you say?
So instead of supporting this secular, civil opposition the Obama administration, NATO and EU is ACTIVELY supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which literally hates these countries and what their societies stands for.
And if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, with the help of the money and support of the west, their policy would be ANTI USA, ANTI EU, ANTI NATO and of course destroy Israel.
Seems like a VERY smart policy wouldn’t you say?
And our tax money goes to this madness!
And in the meantime the civilian population in Syria, including the secular, civil opposition, is getting slaughtered and massacred.
The big difference as I wrote in my original series is that after over 45 years of brutal dictatorship the FEAR IS GONE. If you don’t understand that you don’t understand very much of what is going on now.
Here is one of the very, very few opinion polls of what the opposition really thinks:
What Does the Syrian Opposition Believe?
“There are increasing calls for international intervention inSyriaafter this weekend’s massacre in Houla, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces murdered more than 100 civilians. Obstacles to intervention remain, however, especially concern that the opposition to Assad’s regime is dominated by religious fundamentalists. Until recently, for example, the Syrian National Council, a group of exiled opponents of the regime, was led by Burhan Ghalioun, whose unwillingness to counter the Muslim Brotherhood was widely viewed in the West as a troubling sign of Islamist influence.
But a confidential survey of opposition activists living inSyriareveals that Islamists are only a minority among them. Domestic opponents of Assad, the survey indicates, look toTurkeyas a model for Syrian governance — and even widely admire theUnited States.
Pechter Polls, which conducts opinion surveys in tough spots in theMiddle East,AfricaandAsia, completed the Syria opposition poll in December 2011. Respondents were contacted over a secure Skype connection by someone they could trust — all native Syrians — who asked them to fill out a short questionnaire anonymously in Arabic. Interviewers were selected from different social and political groups to ensure that respondents reflected a rough cross-section of overall opposition attitudes. To ensure confidentiality, the online survey could be accessed only through a series of proxy servers, bypassing the regime-controlled Internet.
Given the survey’s unusual security requirements, respondents were selected by a referral (or ”controlled snowball”) technique, rather than in a purely random fashion. To be as representative as possible, the survey employed five different starting points for independent referral chains, all operating from different locations. The resulting sample consisted of 186 individuals inSyriaidentified as either opposition activists themselves (two-thirds of the total) or in contact with the opposition.
What do these ”inside” opposition supporters believe? Only about one-third expressed a favorable opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood. Almost half voiced a negative view, and the remainder were neutral. On this question, no significant differences emerged across regions.
Most of the survey’s questions asked, ”On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 means the most negative and 7 the most positive, how would you rate your opinion of X?” Answers of 1 to 3 were considered negative, 4 as neutral, and 5 to 7 as positive.
While many respondents supported religious values in public life, only a small fraction strongly favored Shariah law, clerical influence in government, or heavy emphasis on Islamic education. A large majority (73%) said it was ”important for the new Syrian government to protect the rights of Christians.” Only 20% said that religious leaders have a great influence on their political views.
This broad rejection of Islamic fundamentalism was also reflected in the respondents’ views on government. The poll asked each respondent what country he or she would ”like to see Syria emulate politically,” and which countries the respondent ”would like to see Syria emulate economically.” The poll listed 12 countries, each with a scale of 1 to 7. Just 5% had even a mildly positive view of Saudi Arabia as a political model. In contrast, 82% gave Turkey a favorable rating as both a political and economic model (including over 40% extremely favorable). The U.S. earned 69% favorable ratings as a political model, with France, Germany and Britain close behind. Tunisia rated only 37% and Egypt 22%.
Iran was rated lowest of any country included in the survey, including Russia and China: Not even 2% of respondents had positive views of Iran as a political model. Fully 90% expressed an unfavorable view of Hezbollah, including 78% with the most negative possible attitude.
One of the surprises in the results is the scope of the opposition’s network inside Damascus, despite their difficulties in demonstrating publicly. One-third of the respondents, whether activists or sympathizers, said they live in the Syrian capital. (To protect their privacy, the survey did not ask for more precise identification.)
This ”inside” opposition is well-educated, with just over half identifying as college graduates. The ratio of male to female respondents was approximately 3 to 1, and 86% were Sunni Arab.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were ambivalent about Syrian Kurdish demands for ”political decentralization” (like autonomy). Views of ”Kurdish parties” were evenly divided among negative, neutral and positive. (Such feelings are evidently mutual: In the six months since the survey was completed, Syrian Kurdish organizations have increasingly decided to go their own way, separate from the other opposition groups.)
Based on a statistical analysis of the survey, most secularists among the respondents prefer weak central government, presumably as a way to safeguard their personal freedoms. On the other hand, the one-third of respondents who support the Muslim Brotherhood also tend to have a favorable view of Hamas, despite the latter movement’s previous association with the Assad regime.
The survey demonstrates that the core of the Syrian opposition inside the country is not made up of the Muslim Brotherhood or other fundamentalist forces, and certainly not of al Qaeda or other jihadi organizations. To be sure, a revolution started by secularists could pave the way for Islamists to win elections, as has occurred in Egypt. But the Syrian opposition is solidly favorable to the U.S. and overwhelmingly negative toward both Hezbollah and Iran.”
David Pollock is the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute and a consultant to Pechter Polls.
The Shabiha, the murderous thugs that do most of the massacres
Assad’s Pact With the Devil
Syrian Regime Using Hired Killers to Cling to Power
“The regime of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad has enlisted gangs of murderous thugs known as ‘Shabiha.’ No assignment is too brutal or bloody for these men who are free to kill, plunder and rape. Assad knows that outright victory over the opposition is his only remaining chance to stay in power.”
“Europe, the United States and perhaps even Kofi Annan are slowly realizing that there will be no compromise with Syrian President Bashar Assad, because there can be no compromise with Assad. Now that more than 10,000 people have died and tens of thousands have been tortured, the phase in which protesters were still staging peaceful demonstrations, and in which negotiations, transitional governments and compromises were possible is irrevocably over.
When the regime was still able to negotiate its own exit, it didn’t want to. Now it no longer has that option, because any sign of weakness would lead to its overthrow.
This realization hasn’t been triggered by the fact that the regime is massacring civilians to save itself. Similar bloodbaths have already taken place in the past. In April of last year, more than 60 people disappeared without a trace in Homs, after government troops had mowed down a group of peaceful protesters. In January, several families in a southeastern Homs neighborhood were massacred in a way that resembled the Houla killings. And when the Bab Amr neighborhood was captured by regime troops several weeks later, after having been almost destroyed by artillery fire, witnesses said that there were mass executions of those who hadn’t fled.
What was different this time was that on Saturday morning, only hours after the killing frenzy, a team of UN observers managed to reach Houla, where they saw and counted the bodies, heard what the survivors had to say and saw the tracks the tanks had made. ”The evidence is clear — it is not murky,” said German UN Ambassador Peter Wittig. ”There is a clear government footprint in those killings.” Whereas earlier massacres were only documented in reports by the Syrian opposition and video recordings that could not be corroborated, this was a different situation.
By failing, the UN mission appears finally to be having an impact. The roughly 300 unarmed observers cannot possibly monitor a nonexistent cease-fire, during which more than 2,000 people had been killed by the end of last week. The UN observers cannot prevent what is happening, but they can prevent it from being covered up. This isn’t much, and for angry Syrians who burned images of Annan, it’s far too little. ”We called the observers during the massacre,” a man from Houla who calls himself Abu Emad was quoted as saying, ”but they refused to come and stop the murders. Damn then, and damn the entire mission!”
“The men, some in civilian clothing and others dressed in army uniforms, went from house to house, reported survivors like 11-year-old Ali, who told CBS News: ”They came to our house at night. First they took out my father and then my oldest brother. My mother shouted: Why are you doing this? Then they shot both of them, and after that my mother. Then one of the men came in with a flashlight and saw my sister Rasha. He shot her in the head.” Ali hid with his two little brothers. The man saw them and shot the brothers, but he missed Ali.
Other survivors who hid or played dead consistently gave the same accounts: The men combed through house after house and room after room, killing everyone, some with knives and some with guns. The massacre continued until the morning hours. When the UN observers arrived, they found nothing but corpses in the villages controlled by regime forces. The survivors had fled to neighborhoods held by the FSA, where they placed the bodies they had recovered on mats in the mosques before filming and burying them.
The regime in Damascus could not deny that the massacre had taken place. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi, parroting the government’s standard position, promptly blamed the killings on ”armed terrorists” and ”Islamists.” The Russian government, which had blocked every Security Council resolution condemning Syria, launched into a bizarre attempt to apportion the blame. The regime was apparently responsible for the assault by tanks and mortars, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. But the brutish murders, said Alexey Puchkov, chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, ”were definitely committed by the other side.”
Igor Pankin, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, agreed: ”We cannot imagine that it is in the Syrian regime’s interest to sabotage Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s visit to Damascus.” And he is right in one respect. In PR terms, a massacre of children cannot be helpful to the Assad regime. But he was wrong in another sense, inadvertently putting his finger on Russia’s growing frustration with its ally: Syria‘s leadership is no longer taking decisions that would make sense for a government hoping to reach a political solution to the crisis.
By gradually concentrating power in the hands of the Alawite minority, to which the Assad clan belongs, the regime is fomenting a religious war against the Sunni majority, the very conflict it claims it wants to prevent. Now Assad has backed himself into a corner from which he believes there is only way out: victory. This is why the latest proposal from Berlin and Washington to attempt the ”Yemeni solution,” which would be to depose Assad but keep the regime in power, will not work. The regime is relying solely on violence, accompanied by an outrageous propaganda narrative that blames foreign terrorists and al-Qaida for the uprising.
This conspiratorial obsession is nothing new. Starting in 2003, the intelligence services began secretly organizing the transfer of jihadists from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait across the Syrian border into Iraq, to deter the Americans from seeking regime change in Damascus as well. At the same time, the regime painted itself as a bulwark in the fight against al-Qaida. Foreigners who were later arrested reported how they had been kept in Syrian intelligence camps in Homs while waiting to be transferred into Iraq.
The attacks on several Scandinavian embassies in Damascus after the Danish cartoon controversy in early 2006 were blamed on an Islamist mob, but as it turned out, the regime had planted Islamists in the crowd. As a precaution, it also removed the guards from in front of a general’s house next to the Norwegian Embassy. Although there was no evidence that the regime was behind the major bombing attacks in Damascus, Aleppo and Deir al-Zor in recent months, they had several strange elements in common: The bombers had immense quantities of explosives, which they easily managed to get through all government checkpoints, and they detonated most of their bombs in front of empty buildings. When the regime published its death tolls after the first attack on Dec. 23, they included the names of men who had already died elsewhere. During the ostentatious burial service at the Umayyad Mosque, signs attached to many of the coffins read ”anonymous martyr.” On May 9, just before a bomb exploded near the convoy of UN observer mission chief Robert Mood, the vehicles were detained at a military checkpoint just long enough so that they would be nearby at the time of detonation.
What happened in Houla followed the pattern of earlier attacks like the one in Homs. First, the target is bombarded with tanks and artillery from a great distance. Then the regular troops move in and drive out or shoot the last remaining rebels. Finally, the regime sends in its helpers, the Shabiha (”ghosts”), over which it has less and less control.
What were once gangs of thugs and smugglers from the hills around Latakia, the home turf of the Assad clan, have turned into an army of irregular troops numbering in the thousands. The gangs are backed by the beneficiaries of the regime, those who profit the most from Syria‘s façade of a market economy, and who now have the most to lose. It’s a Faustian bargain. As long as they are loyal to Assad, they are permitted to murder, loot and rape, as was the case in Houla, where the Shabiha came from neighboring villages to the south.
The Shabiha were also active in the capital Damascusin August 2011. Every evening during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, dozens of them stood in front of mosques in Sunni neighborhoods, prepared to bludgeon and drag off anyone who said anything derogatory about the regime after emerging from prayers. At about 8 p.m., swarms of Shabiha thugs emerged from the intelligence service quarters, were loaded into requisitioned buses and driven to their deployment locations, where they lay in wait until the faithful dispersed after leaving the mosques.
The Shabiha are criminals and day laborers, mostly Alawites, but also Kurds with the PKK terrorist group, members of Sunni clans from Aleppo loyal to the regime, and some Christians. The Shabiha are the shadow force of a regime that no longer trusts its own army, but instead has created a monster that is taking on a life of its own, undermining the Syrian government long before it suffers a military defeat.
Months ago, the author and dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, who is in hiding in Damascus, wrote: ”The current heads of the security services may very well reform themselves into a mafia-type organization after the collapse of the regime and continue to practice the violence, theft and discrimination at which they are so adept.”Syria could eventually be controlled by marauding gangs, driven by greed and the fear of reprisal, which becomes more justified with each new wave of killings.”
The Shabiha: Inside Assad’s death squads
The Shabiha started off as racketeers and smugglers. But now, as ultra-loyal enforcers ofSyria’s brutal regime, they have taken on a far more bloodthirsty role, write Harriet Alexander and Ruth Sherlock.
“The door to Dr Mousab Azzawi’s clinic, on the Mediterranean coast ofSyria, was always open to anyone who needed help. But, operating in the heartland of the feared Shabiha militia, there were some patients the doctor would have preferred not to treat.
”They were like monsters,” said Dr Azzawi, who worked in Latakia. ”They had huge muscles, big bellies, big beards. They were all very tall and frightening, and took steroids to pump up their bodies.
”I had to talk to them like children, because the Shabiha likes people with low intelligence. But that is what makes them so terrifying – the combination of brute strength and blind allegiance to the regime.”
As President Bashar al-Assad’s country continues its savage slide towards full-blown civil war, the violent, dark and secretive world of the Shabiha is coming out into the open.
Nine days ago, 108 people were butchered by the Shabiha in the town of Houla. The pro-Assad thugs went through the village, house to house, and slit the throats of anyone they came across – including 49 children. Exactly a week later, the Shabiha pulled 12 factory workers off a bus in the town of Qusayr, 40 miles to the south; tied their hands behind their backs, and shot them in the head. “
“The world is learning just how bloodthirsty the Shabiha can be. But insideSyria, their capacity for hideous brutality has long been known.
”Even before the revolution, any time there was unrest they would go out into the streets and stop it for the government,” said Selma, who comes from a prominent Alawite family – a Shia Muslim sect, into which the Assad family was born, and to which almost all of the Shabiha belong. Her cousins are Shabiha.
”They would just break people’s arms and legs. They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural – they have to defend their sect.”
Her cousins wore civilian clothes, she explained – ”then the television can say that these are just civilians who love Bashar.”
“President Assad, and his father Hafez before him, used the Shabiha to terrorise Syrians into obedience, brainwashing the militia into believing the Sunni majority was their enemy. “
“After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria’s French rulers needed soldiers willing to defend the regime from a Sunni uprising, so they incorporated large numbers of Alawites into the army, who were only too happy to fight their Sunni ”oppressors”.
They became the most politically powerful sect in Syria, and the vast majority of the country’s top intelligence and military officers adhere to the faith. It was from the army that Hafez al-Assad emerged to stage his coup.
Initially the Shabiha were a mafia clan, making money through racketeering. Selma, the Alawite with Shabiha family, said her cousins were ”filthy rich” through smuggling in diesel, milk and electronics. ”Anything toLebanon that is cheaper inSyria, and whatever is needed inSyria fromLebanon,” she said.
The ruling Assad family turned a blind eye to their criminal behaviour and violent methods. In return, the Shabiha became the Assads’ fiercely loyal defenders and enforcers.
”They are fuelled by this belief that they are fighting for their survival,” said Dr Azzawi. ”Assad tells them that they must defend the government or else they will be destroyed; it’s kill, or be killed.”
“An enormous man, identified on the video as Areen al-Assad – a member of the president’s family clan – posed with his gun, grinned from the steering wheel of his car, and flexed his muscles. His huge bicep bulged with a tattoo of the president’s face.
At the end of the video, the posturing Shabiha militants proclaim: ”Bashar, do not be sad: you have men who drink blood.”
”It is their motto,” explained Dr Azzawi, who said that many of the men were recruited from bodybuilding clubs and encouraged to take steroids. ”They are treated like animals, and manipulated by their bosses to carry out these murders. They are unstoppable.”
“The militia operated with blind devotion to the leaders, referred to as ”muallim”, meaning boss, or ”khaal”, uncle. And indeed, it was in many ways a family business.
Mr Assad’s cousin Numir has taken over as one of the key rulers of the Shabiha – even though the government is careful to avoid direct association with the militia and their murderous acts.
How the men are paid is unclear, although many claim the Shabiha is funded by businessmen tied into the Alawite clique that dominates the government.
What is known is that the Shabiha have a strong economic motives for backing the regime. Foot soldiers can earn up to £120 for a day’s thuggery – a fortune in Syria.”
“”If they know the whole area is against the regime they have no problem killing everybody,” she said. ”That is how it works.”
The armed opposition
It has been fascinating to watch the development during the last 15 months of the opposition’s developing from the first few demonstrations. How the demonstrations started spreading and got bigger and bigger.
To the first sporadic attempts from civilians to defend themselves and their families, villages, neighbourhoods etc. against the attacks by the Assad regime. Via the first appearance of the defectors from the Assad army. Until today where you have a lot of groups going from hit-and-run attacks to learning how to coordinate and organize more sophisticated attacks against stronger targets.
They are learning, and they are learning fast because they have to.
In addition, they have increased the pressure on the regime many times over, increasing attrition and increasing defections etc
Still the armed opposition desperately lacks weapons and ammunition, especially to defend against Assad’s tanks and helicopter gunships.
The rebels are also gaining confidence. “Every day we control more territory, every day we have more defections, and we are having better organization in our ranks,” said Maj. Sami al-Kurdi, a spokesman for the Homs Military Council, one of the new military structures that are being established around the country. “The regime now controls only the territory under its tanks, and the evidence is that they don’t dare step out of their tanks.”
And as I said, they are growing in effectiveness and strength.
After driving rebels from strongholds in the Baba Amr district of Homs and several Idlib towns in March, the government has since been unable to press home the advantage. Repeated efforts to dislodge the FSA from the provincial Homs towns of Rastan and Qusair have failed, and a major offensive launched last week against a rebel stronghold in the town of Haffa, northeast of Latakia, faltered despite intense shelling and the deployment of combat helicopters.
The Assad regime can go in and suppress an area with heavy weapons, but as soon as they leave it, it losses the control.
The result is that many parts of northern and central Syria have effectively fallen under the sway of the opposition,
Which also makes it really hard for the regime to move around, and for them to get out of their checkpoints that they are barricaded in. The Assad forces are in many cases pinned down.
Remember that I two months ago talked about how the Syrian army de facto had defected “in place”? Well, now the defections have started to increase and continues at a steady rate. And regular troops are weary after nearly 15 months of continuous deployment since no new conscripts have been called in.
One example – Of 400 soldiers originally stationed in the provincial capital of Idlib, just around 60 remained last week defending their base near the centre of the city, which has seen significant fighting. In the small city of Maraa, near Aleppo, 15 soldiers defected within the space of a week — as many as in the entire previous year.
The rebels also are starting to inflict heavy casualties on government troop’s security forces. It is likely to hit a record level in June for the second month in a row. As of Monday, June 11, the state news agency has announced the funerals of 259 soldiers and police officers who were killed in combat with rebels this month, a record 57 of them Saturday June 10 alone. Well ahead of May’s pace, when 404 such burials took place
Just during the period of June 10 to June 13, here are some of the main events:
- FSA Attacked the Taftanaz military airport.
- In Deir Ezzor several BMP:s and tanks where destroyed there alone. In Baba Amr, where the massacre occurred, well the FSA is back and on June 12 they destroyed two BMP:s.
- And on the same day three tanks where destroyed in Haritan,Aleppo
- The FSA captured the Deir Ezzor checkpoint operated by Army and shabiha. They captured lots of weaponry and ammunition after the attack
- FSA attacked a big regime convoy outside Latakia in operation ‘Cutting the snake’.
- Capture by FSA of shabiha and army in one of their strongpoints in Al Qusayr on June 10.
- Syrian rebels on June 11 briefly seized control of the strategic army base al-Ghanto (surface-to-air missiles are stationed there), close to the central town of Rastan before the army rained down artillery and forced them out of the station. They seized a lot of weapons and ammunition.
- On June 3, rebels attacked a Syrian Air Force As Suwayda air base east of the southern town of Deraa opposite the Israeli Golan border – their first such attack in the 14-month uprising, Several rebel groups firing mortars set fire to fighter aircraft and assault helicopters in their hangars and ripped up runways.
Does this sounds like some “ragtag” wild bands on the lose?
Inside Syria: You will never guess who arms the rebels
In any revolution, getting weapons is a key challenge. Syria’s rebels have found an interesting solution.
“JABAL AL-ZAWIYA, Syria— At the Free Syrian Army base here, a group of men led a nervous prisoner from his cell to a car waiting outside. A few hours later, the rebels returned alone, with a trunkload of weapons.
As they loaded the store room with new bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, Hamza Fatahallah, an army defector who joined the Free Syrian Army nine months ago, described the transaction that had taken place.
“We have caught many army prisoners,” he said. “We send them back home for a small amount of money on the condition they do not return to the regime. We use the money to buy weapons.”
For the release of this prisoner, Ahmed Haseeba, the group received $500. With this money, Fatahallah said they were able to buy ammunition from their main supplier: Syria’s national army, also known as the enemy.
This strange cycle of exchanging prisoners for weapons has been playing out between rebel forces and President Bashar al-Assad’s army since the beginning of the revolution.
Fatahallah estimated that his village purchased 40 percent of their weapons from the regime. Prisoner exchanges have so far contributed almost $80,000 toward weapons purchases, he said. And they obtain an additional 50 percent of their weapons during battle. The remaining 10 percent are donated and smuggled from outside the country, or are purchased from private merchants, mostly from Iraq.
Occasionally, prisoners are also exchanged directly for weapons, Fatahallah said. They have received up to two Kalashnikov rifles in exchange for a prisoner in the past.
For the regime, or at least the duplicitous members of it, supplying the enemy is a big business. Government officers also sell Kalashnikov bullets, which typically sold for less than 40 cents before the uprising, for about $4 each, according to Ahmed Al Sheikh, the leader of the armed opposition in Jabal al-Zawiya. He leads about 6,000 men from eight battalions that are collectively known as the Sham Falcons.
Kalashnikovs are bought for about $1,000, he said. Rocket-propelled grenade launchers, complete with a set of four rockets, cost up to $4,000, as does a BKT machine gun.
“These officers sell to us not because they love the revolution but because they love money,” Al Sheikh said of his chain of suppliers. “Their loyalty is to their pockets only, not the regime.”
While most of the sellers are corrupt officers, they said lower ranking soldiers have occasionally stolen supplies from government weapons storage and sold them to the rebel forces.
The relationship is not always a smooth one.
Back at the base, the men were relaxing after lunch when a loud explosion shocked everyone to their feet. As they feared, the previous night’s purchase of Kalashnikov bullets had been booby-trapped. This time their colleagues were lucky enough to survive the discovery.
The men had learned from prior experience — bullets acquired from the regime are sometimes emptied of their gunpowder and filled with TNT designed to destroy the Kalashnikov and its owner, rather than the enemy.
After several injuries and the loss of two rifles, the men had learned to spot the fakes. To everyone’s relief this had been a controlled explosion, by someone suspicious of the new batch. The damage inflicted was only a blackened hand, some singed hair and a hole in the table.
“These ones here are good bullets,” said battalion leader Asad Ibrahim, showing the red marking on the base of one of the bullets. Holding up another with a slightly darker red off-center mark he said, “These are Bashar’s bullets to explode our guns.”
The men said bullets like these have destroyed many guns and killed or seriously injured several of their fellow fighters. But desperate for ammunition, they take the risk.
Commander Al Sheikh said that half of the Sham Falcon arsenal are seized from the enemy. Most are taken either during battle, or after attacks on government checkpoints. And the rebels carry out organized raids on government weapon stores whenever they can.
During an attack on a checkpoint in Mughara last week, Al Sheikh proudly boasted that his men had managed a rare grab: a T62 tank along with anti-aircraft weapons.
Another source of arms is from the army defectors themselves, who bring their own weapons along when they join the rebel forces.
Sitting at the base, the men laughed as they recalled the story of two friends, both defectors, who told their superior they needed one of the gun-mounted vehicles and some heavy weapons to check on a call regarding rebel activity. Loading the truck with as much ammunition and weapons as they could find, they drove straight toward the rebels, checking in by radio with their boss with stories of hunting down “rebel traitors” hours after they had already betrayed sides.
While the Free Syrian Army has been adept at obtaining weapons, it has also proven skillful in manufacturing their own.
In a secret warehouse across town from the base, fertilizer and sugar were being boiled in a large pot. Everything from teapots to large metal pipes were being filled to make roadside bombs for attacks on tanks and army vehicles. 23mm bullet casings were filled with explosives with a small wick on top, looking more like an ACME special from a Loony Tunes cartoon than a deadly hand grenade.
”We are using very simple weapons against the highly sophisticated weapons of the regime — tanks, rockets, missiles. What a government! What a regime. Doing nothing but killing their people,” Fatahallah said during a tour of the busy workshop.
The men from the battalion spoke constantly of the need, not for military intervention from abroad, but for international help in obtaining more weapons. But with or without this support, they vowed to continue the fight until Assad is removed.
“The Quran says to prepare whatever weapons you can to fight your enemy,” said Al Sheikh, the commander, as his local leaders discussed preparations for their next mission.
“Even if no weapons are available and all we have left to use are stones, we will go on with our revolution until Assad falls.”
Syrian rebels in Turkey doubtful over new Arab arms supplies
“ANTAKYA, Turkey(Reuters) – Syrian rebels resting and recovering from wounds in Turkeysay that far from receiving a host of heavy weapons to take the fight to government forces, they feel forgotten by their Western and Arab backers.
Some rebels and opposition figures inside and outside Syria say there has been an upsurge in recent weeks of heavier weaponry being smuggled into Syria via Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq from suppliers inSaudi Arabia and Qatar.
The weapons, which according to the rebels are being supplied by private sponsors, include thousands of shells, hundreds of sniper rifles, as well as anti-armor missiles.
But in the verdant hills, wooded mountainsides and languid refugee camps of Turkey’s southern Hatay province, Free Syrian Army rebels returning from the fight to rest and tend their wounds, said they had seen no sign of any new weapons.
One rebel said less than half the fighters in his unit even had a gun. What weapons they did have, the rebels said, came from inside Syria.
”This is an absolute lie. We have not seen anything. If they are coming through Lebanon, maybe, but if they were, we would see these weapons. We don’t see them, where are they?” said one rebel who gave his name only as Ahmad.
”Every household has had one person killed or wounded. If we had weapons we could defend ourselves,” said Ahmad, clean-shaven and dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, not fitting the typical image of a rebel fighter.”
“After the tanks push their way through the town and surrounding villages, Ahmad said, Assad’s soldiers, move from house to house rounding up young men and looting their homes. What they leave behind, they destroy, he said.
From a hospital ward in Hatay’s main cityAntakya, Ahmad becomes frustrated when speaking about weapons. He motions his hands emphatically to drive home his point.
”By God, we don’t trust anyone. We don’t believe anyone anymore. The world has forgotten us,” he said.
Like most of the Syrians inTurkey, Ahmad would only give one name for fear of reprisals against his relatives at home.
As Ahmad spoke, the newest wounded arrival, 31-year-old Lutfi, was wheeled into the emergency department below. Lutfi, a Free Army fighter was shot in the leg during a clash with government troops in Jabal al-Krad near the western city of Latakia.
Lutfi said he and some 150 rebel fighters ambushed around 200-250 of Assad’s men who were on their way to occupy one of the surrounding villages. Two rebels were killed in the clash and another four were wounded.
The right leg of his camouflage military trousers has been ripped off, revealing a bandage covering his bullet wound. Lutfi laughed when asked whether new weapons had reached his men.
”There are no new weapons. All we can do is attack and retreat. They are nothing against their weapons,” he said.
ONLY 40 PERCENT HAVE WEAPONS
Some 45 km (30 miles) south of Antakya only minutes from the Syrian border, Nasim, another rebel stands outside the Yayladagi refugee camp – tents erected inside an old, derelict tobacco factory that now serves as his temporary home.
Like at the others camps scattered around Hatay and further to the east, here fighters come to recoup with comrades or family members. Syrians are free to enter and leave the camp but access to the media is restricted.
Nasim says he regularly crosses back into Syriato smuggle food and blankets to fighters stationed inside but said he had not seen any new weapons cross from Turkey into Syria and that all the weapons he had seen had been acquired in the country.
”Three months ago I heard that Arab countries were going to send us money or weapons but I have not seen anything. Not one country has sent us money or weapons,” said Nasim, a short, stocky, scruffily dressed man in his 30s with a full black beard.
”The only weapons we get are by pooling our money together and buying them in Syria, or someone who supports us will come and give us their hunting rifle or something. Sometimes soldiers from the army sell us weapons,” he said.
Only around 40 percent of his unit even had a weapon, Nasim said, ”and these are light weapons. Assad is hitting us with tanks.”
Some 40 rebels and activists who spoke to Reuters this week all said that apart from a small number of light weapons which had been bought on the black market, they had not seen any weapons smuggled to Syria through Turkey.
While Turkey has thrown its support behind Assad’s opposition, has called for the Syrian leader to step down and given sanctuary to senior defected Syrian army officers, it has opposed any outside military intervention in its neighbor.
Turkish officials sayAnkara is not arming the rebels and have denied reports that weapons from other countries are being smuggled over Turkish territory.
Corroborating accounts of what is happening inside Syria is difficult because the government tightly restricts foreign media access. Most rebels also cross into Syria during darkness and Turkish security forces do not allow media near informal border crossings.
But for the rebels it does not matter where the weapons originate or how they get there, as long as they come.
”Wherever they come from it does not matter. We want weapons. We want to be able to defend our women and our families. We don’t want money, just weapons,” said Omar, another rebel smuggler at Yayladagi.”
Syrian Army Unable to Stop Flood of Deserters
“Yet the cynical joke about the soldiers at the checkpoint reflects a reality that grows closer with each day, one which is welcomed by many Syrians: The regime is finding its soldiers slipping out of its grasp. One noncommissioned officer from the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, just hours after defecting to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), relates breathlessly how he made his escape: ”The officer was sitting there, and when he was alone with me and a friend of mine, he demanded, ‘What are you still doing here? Go on and get out of here!’ The officer will issue the order to shoot them, the defector says, and he’ll call their families and threaten them, but all that is nothing but show. It’s over, he says, and it was time for them to disappear.
Shooting from a Distance
Of 400 soldiers originally stationed in the provincial capital of Idlib, just a couple dozen remained last week defending their base near the center of the city, which has seen significant fighting. In the small city of Maraa, near Aleppo, 15 soldiers defected within the space of a week — as many as in the entire previous year.
In Azaz, where Assad’s troops still control a checkpoint at the edge of the city, a heavily fortified city quarter and the minarets of the largest mosque, two soldiers defected a few days ago under the cover of a fake attack. They reported they had received hardly any supplies in weeks, and that they were living on dried out bread and brackish water. One earlier defector had taken with him the numbers of everyone in his unit who owned a cell phone. The FSA then contacted each of them, offering to help them escape. Many of the soldiers found it an attractive offer.
This is just one small insight into the situation in northern Syria, but deserters from other parts of the country who have managed to make their way back to their native villages near Aleppo tell of similar conditions in their own units. Reports of the types of attacks carried out by Assad’s troops also suggest the situation in the south, in the area around Damascus, in Deir al-Zor in the east and in Homs in the west is much the same as it is in the north: In many cases, the army no longer deploys its troops, but instead shoots from great distances using tanks and heavy artillery, or from helicopters, strategies which decrease the risk to the army.
One defector from Homs, a city that has also been the site of heavy fighting, describes a cycle of accelerating collapse. ”If I’d left sooner, state security would have arrested my family and burned down my house,” he says. ”But they’re not going to come now, certainly not just because of me.”
With each bit of the country that slips from the regime’s control, the soldiers’ fear diminishes. That in turn increases the number of defectors, more and more of whom join the FSA. One officer, who defected to the FSA and has a precise mind for figures, estimates the group has around 40,000 former army soldiers in its ranks, although the proportion of soldiers and civilians varies among regions.
Outwardly, power dynamics in Syria have changed little in the past 15 months. The rebellion has gripped the cities, but unlike in Libya, here there is no still no large, contiguous region for the rebels to defend. But the appearance of stability is deceptive. While it’s true that soldiers are no longer allowed to travel by intercity bus without a permit, and that many of those who escape still risk being shot by the omnipresent intelligence service, the fact remains that the regime is no longer able to stay the gradual erosion of its army.
The impression of power and control emanating from the centers of Damascus, Aleppo and other major cities may also be deceptive. The Western half of Syria is a land of villages and small cities, which have joined together with the insurgency in the most densely populated provinces. The area around Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, Hama and Daraa together forms a zone in which the government’s troops may attack anywhere, at any time, yet are no longer able to control the area permanently. And in many places, the people living here have switched sides. Sunni Muslims have certainly done so, but so have most Druzes and Ismailis. And though Kurdish villages in the northwest, such as Basuta and Ain Dara, have started flying the Kurdish flag in recent weeks, rather than the revolutionary flag with its three stars, there’s no one left here who still defends the regime.
Around 50 soldiers are stationed on Sheikh Barakat Mountain near the Churchof St. Simeon, northern Syria’s famous late antiquity ruin, but for the past two months they’ve received supplies only by air, because convoys are no longer able to pass through the surrounding area, which is completely under the FSA’s control
‘We Don’t Get Orders’
The FSA itself is a peculiar entity. It’s clear that it’s effectively organized at the village level and in small cities, each group loosely connected with other districts and provinces, but without a set hierarchy or command structure. ”We have a good relationship with the FSA’s commander in exile in Turkey,” says one local commander, ”but we don’t get orders. We’re in charge of ourselves.”
This set-up isn’t enough to allow coordinated attacks on the regime’s centers of power, but it appears to be good enough to control the rest of the country. What’s sustaining the regime is its monopoly on heavy weaponry, as well as its tough core of 100,000 to 200,000 officers, secret police, elite soldiers and militia members, most of whom are Alawis and fear that the regime’s fall would spell their own end as well. These troops have their stronghold in the Ansariyah Mountains in the west of the country and control parts of the larger cities as well, but they no longer hold all the land between.
Everyone — the rebels, the hundreds of thousands of undecided currently fleeing through the country to wherever they feel they will be somewhat safer, even those who support the regime — are all dreading the ”next step,” in the words of Abu Ali al-Dirri, an officer who changed sides six months ago. The next step is the air force.
‘They’re Going to Bomb the Country’
Syria has made massive improvements to its air force in the past year, but so far, aside from the helicopters, hardly put it into action. ”But before the Assads go down, they’re going to bomb the country,” Dirri believes. For years, he says, the regime has made a point of ensuring the loyalty of the air force, the branch of the military where President Bashar Assad’s father Hafez began his career. ”They’ve increased the proportion of Alawi cadets at the military academy in Aleppo constantly, especially in the air force,” he says. ”They knew things would turn against them at some point.”
At most, Dirri says, the regime would face the problem that many older pilots have been discharged in recent years, while many newer pilots have only barely completed the number of flying hours necessary in order to fly a fighter jet. Dirri himself, as a Sunni, hasn’t even been allowed to carry a gun since the revolution began.
For years, the officer says, ”Russia didn’t want to supply replacement parts any more, because we never paid, but now Russia is providing enormous amounts of assistance, even sending over personnel.” He adds that more than 1,000 Russian engineers were present in the country this January. Many of them were officially there as agricultural consultants, ”but their work doesn’t have much to do with agriculture.” Iran has sent arms and ammunition, he adds, but not much in the way of personnel, while China has a group of air force specialists stationed at Aleppo‘s military airports.
Around half of the air force’s 360 fighter jets are fully operational, Dirri says. It’s roughly the same proportion with its 120 helicopters. Its French ”Gazelle” helicopters, equipped with armor-piercing weapons, are in the best condition, ”but not a single one of them has ever taken off — they’re all stationed at the presidential palace airport.”
Where Will the West Draw a Line?
As long as the West continues to declare every few days that it has no intention of carrying out a military intervention, says Colonel Dirri, the regime in Syria will continue to use everything at its disposal. ”Its strength rests in the fact that the whole world is saying, ‘We’re not going to get involved,’” he says. ”If this Rasmussen” — a reference to NATO’s secretary general — ”would just shut his mouth for once, that alone would do Syria a great service!”
At the very latest, after the massacres in Houla two weeks ago and in Mazraat al-Qubair last Wednesday, none of the rebels in northern Syrian still believe the UN’s peace plan will be successful. Instead, their greatest hope is little more than a rumor: that at some point the US must surely draw a line, and perhaps Russia too. What will it take to reach that line? The deployment of Syria‘s air force to carpet-bomb the country? Or perhaps the regime resorting to its arsenal of chemical weapons?
One thing is clear: With or without a vote from the UN Security Council, the rebels want an intervention.”
The T-HOMS 75
Finally the T-HOMS 75. It is a Toyota pickup fitted with steel plates to protect teams of three rebel fighters each behind the rockets and machine guns. Under the motto, “you take what you have”
This is what NATO and Anders Fogh Rasmussen probably would call “a serious proliferation of weapons in the region”.
And this piece from Haaretz on the left and very critical of Israeli policies. Regarding the deafening silence from nearly ALL Israeli Arab artists in Israel and Jewish radicals, the peace movement etc.
A deafening silence
Tolerance in the face of Assad’s bloody murderousness is liable to have the same effect on Arab-Jewish radicalism in Israel.
By Ari Shavit
“Remember Deir Yassin? The number of innocent people murdered in Syriaover the past year is 100 times greater than the number of innocent people who were murdered in this Arab village at the edge of Jerusalem in 1948.
Remember the Qibya incident? The number of innocent people killed in Syriaover the past year is 250 times the number of innocent people killed in this pastoral village in Jordan in 1953.
Remember Sabra and Shatila? The number of innocent people butchered during the past year in Syria is 20 times the number of innocent people who were butchered in those Palestinian refugee camps in western Beirut in 1982.
Remember the bloody rioting in October 2000? The number of innocent people who were shot to death in Syria during the past year is 1,000 times the number of innocent people who were shot to death by the Israel Police in the Galilee and the Triangle area in central Israel.
Remember Operation Cast Lead? The number of innocent people who were felled in Syria during this past year is dozens of times the number of innocent people who fell in the Gaza Strip during that widely condemned Israeli military operation in the winter of 2008-09.
The picture is clear: During one year, the secular Arab nationalism of Bashar Assad has spilled more innocent blood than the Zionists have in decades. This Arab tyrant, who in the past was the darling of Arab Knesset members, is massacring his fellow Arabs in a way that Israel never did.
Arab cities are being bombed, Arab women are murdered, Arab children are slaughtered. An Arab society is being shredded, and an Arab state shattered into fragments.
Despite all this, the The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel is not demanding that the United Nations intervene to stop the bloodshed. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is not petitioning the International Criminal Court in the Hague to put the war criminals on trial. Large Land Day type demonstrations have not been called. Protesters who take part in mass marches every October aren’t marching. Arab students who mark the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 aren’t coming out against the Syrian Nakba of 2012. Israel’s Arab minority and its anti-Zionist left are watching as thousands of Arab are massacred – and are standing idly by.
It’s crystal clear that the Syrian tragedy unfolding before our eyes has serious international ramifications. It is taking all meaning out concepts such as international community, international law and the idea of moral validity in international relations.
It’s crystal clear that the Syrian tragedy has serious pan-Arab ramifications. It is taking all meaning out of concepts such as Arab unity, Arab solidarity and the idea that the contemporary Arab world accords any real meaning to human rights.
But the Syrian tragedy has serious ramifications for Israel’s anti-Zionist community as well. The inability of this community to directly confront Arab evil undermines the moral basis for its battle against Israeli evil.
Its unwillingness to demand that universal values be upheld in Hama and in Homs pulls the rug out from under its demands that universal values be upheld in Ramallah and Nazareth. Its silence when faced with the butcher of Damascus makes its condemnations of the State of Israel sound hollow.
The Syrian challenge is a moral challenge. There are some Israeli Arabs who are passing this test honorably. For example, Azmi Bishara, the former MK who fled Israel after being questioned on suspicion of aiding the enemy, who in the past was close to Assad, is today waging a brave and intensive campaign against him on Al Jazeera tv. Unfortunately, few of Bishara’s colleagues in Israel are following suit.
Israeli Arab artists in Israel and Jewish radicals in Israel are silent about what’s going on just over the border. This troublesome silence makes one wonder if their declared humanitarianism is authentic. When they spoke up – against Israel – about human dignity and freedom, perhaps they were simply fooling us?
Communism in the West was destroyed in the 1950s because it tolerated Stalin’s bloody dictatorship. Tolerance in the face of Assad’s bloody murderousness is liable to have the same effect on Arab-Jewish radicalism in Israel.
See Part 1 – Introduction in my original series for more info
Syria and Vladimir Putin: The Butcher of Homs – Part 1
See Part 2 – Reports in my original series for more info
Syria and Vladimir Putin: The Butcher of Homs – Part 2
Refusing to arm or help the opposition will not end the conflict or limit it; it will drag on as all the examples of like Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Darfur, Bosnia (Srebrenica anyone?) etc. shows. Leading to more massacres and atrocities.
And by waiting the situation gets worse and much more complex, then “they” used its complexity as an excuse not to intervene while decrying the lost opportunity for intervention. And ALL this time the killing and atrocities committed by Assad’s regime just continues as nothing has happened.
On the contrary, the Assad regime has increased it’s attacks since Bashar al-Assad agreed to implement the “new” peace plan.
The international community’s response has been ludicrous. Syrians on the ground have felt forgotten and betrayed. A system that is supposed to protect civilians from brutal force has failed on a monumental scale.
And to ALL these countries, USA, EU, NATO, Turkey etc. that are supposed to defend and protect freedom, liberty and human rights.
To ALL these global government organisations (UN),and local ones like the Arab League etc.
To ALL the statesmen and politicians that talk so loudly about “responsibility to protect” (Samantha Power anyone?), freedom, liberty and human rights.
I say only one thing: You should be REALLY BE PROUD of yourselves and the children of Syria will remember you. Each one of you.
To the children of Syria!
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