Friday, June 10, 2011

More Signs of Splits Within the Army and the Regime in Syria

June 10, 2011

This week contains many significant developments which reflect increasing signs of splits within the army and the regime. In late May several high-ranking officers including Lieutenant General AbdulFattah Dandash were arrested for refusing to fire on the protestors. On Thursday, June 9th, news emerged of a second lieutenant general who has turned against the regime and is now siding with the people against the Assad regime.

Lieutenant General Hassain Hormoush announced the reasons for his defection from the regime on a YouTube video posted here. He starts off by affirming his identity as a soldier by showing his military ID. He said,”Our duty is to protect the people, not kill them. I would like to tell the Syrian officers to protect civilians from the crime led by Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Second, we tell the Syrian people to be reassured because the army has vowed to save them. We call on everyone who was betrayed by the regime to join the people and the people will forgive them. We tell all the free people of the world that the Syrians want to ride the boat of freedom and democracy, so help them do so. Last but not least, the protests are peaceful, Syria is one, and Assad is leaving.”

This statement is highly significant for several reasons. First, it marks the first major public expression of dissent against the regime from a high-ranking military officer. Lieutenant General Hormoush makes it clear that he is siding with the people against the regime. He also promises the protestors that “the army has vowed to save them”, thus indicating that he and other officers are trying to organize a larger scale defection among the armed forces leaders to side with the protestors against Assad. He is encouraging other officers to join the protestors by promising them that “the people will forgive them” for their past crimes and actions of collaboration with the regime if they switch sides. He counters the Assad regime’s attempt to divide Syrians along ethnic and religious lines by proclaiming that “Syria is one.” He also reaffirms the moral superiority of the freedom-seeking protestors over their tormentors by reminding people inside and outside Syria that “the protests are peaceful.”

He also addresses the free world with a direct appeal. He says,”We tell all the free people of the world that the Syrians want to ride the boat of freedom and democracy, so help them do so.” Seeing the lack of support from the leaders of the free world, Lieutenant General Harmoush has instead asked for support from the citizens of the free world for Syria’s freedom struggle. He wants the world to know that the Syrian people are trying to join the free world, and he wants outside help to achieve this objective. He does not specify what kind of outside help he is looking for.

Like Harmoush, other reported military defectors are also stressing the unity of the Syrian people and refusing the Syrian regime’s attempts to divide the Syrian people along ethnic religious lines. The New York Times reported on June 9th about two videos of possible military defectors.
Sergeant Ali Hassan Satouf from the town of Sahl al-Ghab says, “The people are our people and our brothers, whether they are Alawis or Christians or Sunnis.”

Sergeant Satouf also gave insight into the methods used by the Assad regime. he and other soldiers were told they were going to confront a “terrorist group” in Baniyas, but upon arrival they found only peaceful protests run by “women and young men with their chests bared.” Sergeant Satouf, like other soldiers and also outside observers, was moved by the sight of peaceful “young men with their chests bared” who refused to use violence even in the face of horrific repression by the Assad regime. Sergeant Satouf said,”I defected from the army yesterday. I saw with my own eyes that the things we were doing were wrong.” For Sergeant Satouf and other defecting soldiers, the decision to switch sides was driven by a crisis of conscience, by an inner recognition that they could not go along with the Assad regime’s repression against its own people.

One other video depicts a possible defector from the Syrian air force intelligence unit. If true, this story is highly significant because it suggests that the defections have reached beyond military officers to also include members of military intelligence units. This video tells the story of Moustafa Ahmed Moussa, who says he defected on Monday, June 6th. Mr. Moussa says he was stationed in the Mazih area of Damascus. He also named his commanding officers, Col. Suheil al-Hassan and Maj. Gen. Jamil Hassan. Like Lieutenant General Harmoush, Moussa also encouraged other officers and soldiers to join him in defecting from the regime. He said,“I told the other soldiers to leave the Syrian army, because it is not about protecting our homes any more, it is about destroying them. That is what I advised all the officers and soldiers. The army is killing the country and the people.” Like Satouf, Moussa also experienced a crisis of conscience when he came to realize that the regime is “not about protecting our homes anymore…it is about destroying them.”

A third video depicts a possible Lieutenant from the town of Rastan with the last name of Tlass who spoke to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, June 7th. Tlass, like many residents of Rastan, shares a last name with the Syrian defense minister. Also Rastan has been bombarded by the Assad regime in recent days. This report came from

Other moving stories about possible larger-scale military defections emerged from the largely Sunni town of Jisr al-Shoughour. The New York Times reported on Thursday, June 9th, about potentially significant developments in this town. The Times said,”reports say that soldiers there have defected to the opposition, refused to fire on civilian demonstrators and turned their guns on loyalist army units. While many of the soldiers who defected have apparently fled the town, some civilians remain.”
On June 10th, the New York Times said that as anti-regime activists claimed more than 100 soldiers may have turned against the regime in Jisr al Shoughour.

The significance of this development is that it represents the first report of a large scale mutiny in the armed forces against the regime. In addition, the soldiers apparently not only refused to attack civilians but also instead began battling the loyalist army units on behalf of the people. Sami, 25, of Damascus said his relatives in this town told him,” “A big number of soldiers and officers refused to shoot at civilians,”. The important point is that it was not only soldiers but also officers who were refusing orders to murder civilian protestors. This incident could mark the beginning of the end for the Assad regime – following the pattern of the split in the army which ultimately helped to bring down the Ceaucescu regime in Romania which was noted by Muslim writer and commentator Stephen Schwartz.

Jisr al-Shoughour was also a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold in the 1980’s which was attacked by the Syrian regime in 1980. Thus, one hopes that the protestors here are not supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Saed Jamil, a resident of Jisr al-Shoughour, confirmed other reports that the defecting soldiers fled the town and returned to their hometowns to avoid arrest by members of the Assad regime. Mr. Jamil told the story of three young soldiers who defected from the regime in the town. These soldiers included two 19 year old conscripts and a sergeant.

“They were very scared,” Mr. Jamil said. “They changed out of their military clothes and were given civilian clothes so they would not be arrested on the road. But when they left they kept their weapons with them.” It is hard to imagine the extraordinary courage of these young soldiers who risked their lives to defect from the regime and to flee the army in order to remain alive. These young men feared arrest because they knew they would be killed by Assad’s regime if they were caught as deserters from the army.

Another injured civilian who was shot in both legs in Idlib while demonstrating against the regime remembered witnessing the courage of a young conscript, 18 or 19 years old, Hassan, who publicly refused his senior officers’ orders to murder civilians. The man, Ali, said,”the officer in uniform shot him right in front of my eyes.” Even though this article is primarily analytical, it is impossible to forget the human cost of this struggle and to ignore the courage of young men like Hassan who are giving their very lives for refusing to fire on civilians.

Exiled Syrian democrat Ammar Abdulhamid is skeptical of reports about widespread defections in the army in the town of Jisr al-Shoughour. However, he believes there is a more widespread phenomenon of soldiers and officers simply refusing to obey orders to murder civilians. He believes both Sunni and Alawite officers are refusing to murder civilians. He also thinks that the army is also murdering the few soldiers who publicly question the order to slaughter civilians, as opposed to the larger number of soldiers and officers who simply disobey these orders.

Other signs of splits in the regime also emerged this week. First of all, the first demonstration in the wealthy area of Sha’alan in Damascus occurred on Wednesday, June 8th. This demonstration of 300 people is significant because it indicates that the protest movement is starting to cross the often rigid class lines that divide people in the Middle East. The wealthy are apparently beginning to join the protest movement alongside the much larger number of poor demonstrators in the suburbs of Damascus and Da’ara.
Human rights activist and lawyer Razan Zeitouneh, who is in hiding from the Syrian regime and whose husband was arrested several weeks ago, confirmed the significance of wealthy people joining the protest movement in Syria.

Large-scale protests also occurred on Friday, June 10th, in Hama and in the Qadam area of Damascus. According to the YouTube videos which appeared in the New York Times, some 5,000 people in the Qadam part of Damascus and 10,000 people in Hama protested against the regime peacefully on Friday, June 10th.

Palestinians in Syria also made at least their second attempt to help protestors in Syria. In April, at least 4 Palestinians were brutally murdered in Al-Hraak for attempting to smuggle food to protestors in Daa’ra. In June, Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus not only burned the regime recruitment offices that were used to incite Palestinians and other Arabs to create diversionary attacks on Israel and the Jews on the Golan Heights. Palestinians also shouted slogans against Ahmed Jibril, a radical Palestinian terrorist leader who is based in Syria. These two incidents indicate that at least some Palestinian refugees are courageously helping the Syrian protest movement rather than siding with the Assad regime.

Finally, Ammar AbdulHamid indicates that the Syrian regime is escalating its campaign of mass murder against the Syrian people. On Tuesday, June 7th, Mr. AbdulHamid said the regime murdered 500 people in the 11th week of the protest movement, compared with 1,100 in the past 1,100 weeks. Thus, the regime slaughtered nearly half as many people in one week as in the past ten weeks. The massacres are taking place in cities throughout Syria, including Rastan, Talbisseh, Hama, Deir Ezzor, Alboukamal, and Jisr Ashoughour. However, these massacres have only enraged the Syrian people and motivated them to protest even more forcefully against the regime. These massacres seem to be backfiring. As evidence of increasing splits in the army mounts, so the challenge against the regime continues to grow.

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