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Ammar Abdulhamid
Mutiny in the Syrian army?
With increasing military defections, the Syrian regime's violent crackdown may have backfired, analyst says.
Last Modified: 27 Apr 2011 14:07



Citizen video shows Syrian troops siding with the people of Deraa on Tuesday.

***UPDATE***

Something is surely happening in Deraa city, something that, in common parlance, is often referred to as a "massacre".

To be specific: a massacre of unarmed civilians by security forces and soldiers working for the Assads: Syria’s ruling crime family.  

The inhabitants of Deraa have told horrifying stories of streets strewn with the bodies of the dead that residents are unable to retrieve for fear of meeting the same fate.

They also spoke of living in complete darkness and destitution as basic services, including water and electricity, having been cut off by the invading Assad armies, who continue to lay siege to the city preventing the arrival of much needed food and medical supplies.

Still, the eyewitnesses we have managed to talk to tell of brave stories of people defying army tanks with stones, and smuggling food and water from the nearby Palestinian refugee camps.

The Palestinians may not have Syrian citizenship, but have been living here since 1948. In fact, most have been born here, and to them Deraa residents are brothers, and the idea of taking a neutral stance vis-à-vis current developments seems unconscionable.  

But the fog of war overlaying the city is also giving birth to addicting reports of mutiny in the ranks, pitting one army division against another.

The reports tell of a few defections from the ranks of the 5th Division mushrooming into a full-fledged mutiny, when few high-ranking officers decided that defecting is not enough and that they had a duty to protect the city and its unarmed residents from the vicious assault of pro-Assad troops making up the 4th Division and lead by none other than Maher Al-Assad, the brother of the titular president.  

The reports do not stop here, but go on to tell of the capture or at least trapping of Maher al-Assad, and one Rustom Ghazali, the acting chief of political security assigned to deal with the protests in Deraa.

Al Jazeera even aired eyewitness testimony confirming some aspects of this, while the Syrian opposition channel, Barada TV, seemed to endorse the reports as factual. Facebook chat groups are naturally abuzz at this stage.

Considering the volatility of the current situation and the fact that these kind of reports are not exactly unusual in these circumstances, one is tempted to dismiss them in their entirety.

But it must be borne in mind that the reports of the mutiny itself have been around for about 48 hours now.

The fact that the protest movement is banking on splitting the army, if not completely winning it over to their side, and the fact that this report is allowed to be circulated unchallenged for so long lends it some credibility.

Other than the massacres perpetrated by Assad thugs, there are some strange going-ons in Deraa that seem to warrant further investigations.  

Be that as it may, the show of force in Deraa, and another one in the Damascene suburb of Douma, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale, did not prevent protesters from keeping up the daily routine of showing solidarity, defying odds and snipers, and demanding an end to the Assad rule.  

The Ramleh neighborhood in Lattakia has witnessed such a protest, but according to eyewitness reports, it was quickly and violently put down by security forces and Shabiha gangs.

The situation somewhat was more peaceful in other parts of Syria, including the Damascene suburbs of Tal and Zabadani, other towns and cities in Deraa Province, including Jassem and Ankhel, as well as the cities of Banyas, Amoudeh and Homs. 

It is as though protesters throughout Syria are telling the Assads to take their security forces, unofficial militias and loyal army divisions and shove them where the sun does not shine, pardon my Syrian.  

***END OF UPDATE***

In the early morning of April 25, the city of Deraa was invaded from all four corners by units affiliated with the 4th Division, which falls under the direct leadership of Maher al-Assad, and the 5th Division, led by Muhammad Saleh al-Rifai, with reinforcement from the 132 Battalion.

Shortly thereafter, reports began trickling, then pouring, speaking of a mutiny in the units affiliated with the 5th Division and troops from these units standing up to and halting the advance of units from the 4th Division trying to reach Al-Omary Mosque in central Deraa.

At first, many of us thought this might be a reference to a few more defections, as had transpired two weeks ago, but the reports continued to come from different sources and eyewitnesses that we managed to reach all through the day, leading us to believe that there might indeed be something worth monitoring here. 

If such a mutiny has indeed taken place so early in the game, then Assad’s military gambit seems to be backfiring, a development that could spark a wider division within the army in the next few hours and days, with all different sorts of implications for the protest movement, depending on how this internal conflict plays out.  

If, on the other hand, the reports turn out to be nothing more than exaggerations and wishful thinking, then the protest movement will still have a way to go before producing a significant impact on the structure and power base of the regime, and the challenge will be to persist peacefully all the way through despite the mounting violence on part of the Assads. 

It is important to note at this stage, however, the sheer falsehood of the regime allegations of widespread violence on part of the protesters and Salafist designs.

The videos we have clearly show protesters facing tanks with stones not guns. Had Salafists really been present in the city and planning to establish an independent Islamic emirate, why did not they do so in three weeks of peace they had, and do they disappear all of a sudden, with their alleged caches of weapons, each time the army and security forces show up?

One potential answer is that the regime is dealing here with Salafist infiltrators trained by an undead Harry Houdini, or armed with Klingon cloaking devices. The other answer, and pardon me for finding it more likely, is that the regime officials are lying just like their counterparts in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt.  

Be that as it may, despite the violent crackdown in Deraa and the reported two dozen deaths there, not to mention, and the incursions by security forces into the coastal city of Jableh and the suburbs of Mouaddamiyyah, Douma and Barzeh in Damascus, the fatalities that were reported there, and the hundreds of arrests, protesters still managed to organize sizeable demonstrations in Homs, Darayyah and Al-Tal, etc.  

The protesters are a very determined lot, and might just prove to be a tougher nut to crack than the regime.

 

Another video showing Deraa residents celebrating over the army's support for them. 

Citizen videos of the Syrian army's bombardment of Deraa and the Damascus district of Douma:

Tank fires artillery rounds at civilian homes in Deraa on Monday.

Massive columns of smoke over Deraa as loud gunfire is heard.

Syrian troops shoot at civilians in the middle of the streets of Douma.


Ammar Abdulhamid is a prominent Syrian human rights activist, author, dissident and founder of The Tharwa Foundation, a non-profit organisation promoting democracy and development in Syria and the broader Southwest Asia/North Africa region.

He is the author of the Syrian Revolution Digest.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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