Army defectors tell Al Jazeera they left the government side because they were forced to shoot at unarmed protesters.
Tripoli, Lebanon – There is a growing number of defections in the Syrian army. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is taking control of territory in places like Jabal al-Zawiyah in the northwestern province of Idlib and in Zabadani, about 20 km from Damascus, and in Douma, one of the biggest suburbs on the doorstep of the tightly-controlled Syrian capital.
They are undoubtedly growing in numbers, but activists acknowledge that they are still unable to take on government forces or at least, pose a serious challenge.
But it seems that it is not only the defectors who are taking up arms against the state, but also civilians. One of the coordinators of the revolution, Abu Amro Dandashi, told Al Jazeera that there are civilians who have volunteered to join the fight. And activists on the ground are trying to make sure they operate under the umbrella of the FSA.
“The FSA will be the military authority on the ground,” Dandashi, who is from the Syrian town of Talkalakh, but escaped to northern Lebanon, said, “The aim of our plan is to ensure that there won’t be a proliferation of weapons in everyone’s hands once the regime falls.”
Dandashi is among those in the Syrian opposition who believes armed struggle is the way forward.
“We need the world to impose a no-fly zone to encourage more defections, particularly high-ranking officers. The international community should support the FSA by providing it with weapons and logistical support. They are protecting the civilians.”
However, there are others who are more blunt.
“The FSA is our answer. We shouldn’t shy away from pushing for armed resistance against the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” Shaer el-Ghanem, a refugee from Deraa, said.
Who are the FSA?
There are those in Syria’s divided opposition who believe armed civilians make up the bulk of the FSA’s ranks, and that the name “Free Syrian Army” only gives legitimacy to their struggle.
“There will be civil war once the regime falls. There will be no stability for 10 years.”
– Raman Kanjo
This is what Haytham Manna and other Syrian activists told Al Jazeera. Manna, who heads the National Coordination Committee, a Syrian opposition group, has been pushing for keeping “the revolution peaceful” so as not to give the “regime an excuse to use force”. That just doesn’t work.
A divided Syrian opposition has not helped the cause of the opponents of the Syrian government.
Some independent observers who visited Syria have reported that the country is in the midst of an armed insurgency. Undoubtedly, they justify the opposition’s actions as a direct response to the government’s harsh crackdown.
But the military option has scared some, particularly members of Syria’s minority communities.
Raman Kanjo, a Syrian Kurd who now lives in Lebanon, said, “We don’t want a Libya scenario. Syria is different.”
“We have different ethnic group and sects… There will be civil war once the regime falls. There will be no stability for 10 years.”
However, Syria no longer enjoys stability. Deaths are being reported on a daily basis, and the world is hearing about more and more casualties, resulting from the clashes between the security forces and the defectors.
An Arab League peace plan that aimed at finding a peaceful settlement to the ongoing crisis has been outrightly rejected by the Syrian authorities. Walid al-Muallem, the foreign minister, has been making clear that the government reserves the right to take any measure deemed necessary to protect the country from chaos. Activists interpret that as a warning that the crackdown will continue.
It now seems that the “revolution’s coordinators” have realised the way forward is to close ranks and turn what many have called the communal resistance against the state into an organised fighting force. Some are calling it – the Free Syrian Army.