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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

SYRIAN RESISTANCE: Why I Fled Syria’s Army!

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Syrian Army Defector Speaks
Activists in Syria say authorities are taking strict measures, closing areas and setting up checkpoints as the opposition called for protests throughout the country on Friday May 13, 2011., AP Photo.

After fleeing with his family from Syria in fear of his life, a former officer in Bashar al-Assad’s military tells of manipulation and brutality in the ongoing crackdown.

Abu Hamid takes a long drag from a hand-rolled cigarette and exhales. “The Syrian Army doesn't defend the country or the nation,” he says, wagging a thick index finger. “This is the [Bashar] Assad Army. They are allowed to do everything to protect the regime.” Abu Hamid, a stocky 42-year-old with a salt-and-pepper beard, should know. Until recently, he served as a first lieutenant in the Syrian Army, based in the city of Homs. Disgusted by the Army crackdown, Abu Hamid, a 23-year veteran of the military, ditched his uniform and escaped from Syria to Lebanon with his family one month ago.

Since then, the military crackdown against opposition protesters has only ramped up and gotten bloodier. The Syrian military stormed the town of Hama with tanks and troops Sunday, killing at least 100 people, according to opposition activists. A number of smaller towns around the country were also assaulted, leaving at least two dozen dead. The attacks were the most widespread crackdown against protesters in weeks and appeared to be an attempt to squash the opposition before the holy month of Ramadan started Monday. The opposition has laid out detailed plans to ramp up its anti-regime protests during Ramadan. The deadly attacks, which continued Monday with shelling and tank fire in Hama, led to a strong rebuke from President Barack Obama. “The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime,” he said.
In recent months there have been regular reports of military defections, but it’s nearly impossible to gauge the accuracy of these reports because the government has severely restricted access for journalists. Opposition activists say some soldiers in Sunday’s crackdown even left their units when ordered to fire on unarmed demonstrators. For his part, Abu Hamid agreed to discuss the details of his escape from Syria on condition that his full name not be used, and his exact location in Lebanon, which is in a town near the Syrian border, not be revealed for the protection of himself and his family. Despite the recent show of force by the military, Abu Hamid is optimistic that defections will continue. “We will see defections of officers one by one,” he says with a smile. “The longer the violence continues, the more difficult it will be for them.”

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