Ranks of Free Syrian Army 'gaining strength'

Army defectors tell Al Jazeera they left the government side because they were forced to shoot at unarmed protesters.

    Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage of Syrian army deserters who joined the ranks of the opposition Free Syrian Army, or FSA, a group that is getting larger and more organised by the day.

    The soldiers say they defected from the regular army because they were forced to fire on unarmed protesters.

    The recent attack by the FSA on an air force intelligence base in the suburbs of the capital Damascus has raised the profile of the band of army deserters, who are seeking to end President Bashar al-Assad's long rule.

    The group is now believed to number between 1,000 and 25,000 divided over 22 battalions spread across the country.

    On November 16, the FSA announced the creation of a temporary military council which it said aims to "bring down the current regime, protect Syrian civilians from its oppression, protect private and public property, and prevent chaos and acts of revenge when it falls".

    The main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has voiced its sympathy with deserters and acknowledged their "legitimate role of protecting unarmed protesters", but that it did not support the FSA's offensives.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Burhan Ghalioun, the SNC president, visited the Turkish border recently to meet the commanders of the FSA.

    Ghalioun said he had reached agreement with the FSA's commanders that their military operations would focus solely on protecting Syrian civilians and not on offensive operations.

    "We don't want, after the fall of the regime in Syria, armed militias outside the control of the state," Ghalioun said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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