Syrian army defectors raise stakes in uprising
BEIRUT — Attacks by army defectors are transforming the Syrian uprising into an armed insurgency that threatens to spiral into civil war.
Still, without foreign military intervention or significant cracks in President Bashar Assad’s iron rule, the rebel group has emerged as the best hope for a growing number of protesters who have all but given up on peaceful resistance.
“They are the real heroes of this revolution,” said one anti-regime protester in the central city of Hama, the site of a massacre by Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor in 1982 and a hotbed of resistance to the regime. “Everyone else has abandoned us.”
Like most Assad opponents who spoke to the Associated Press, he asked that his name not be used for fear the regime will retaliate against him or his family.
There are concerns the presence of an organized armed rebel group has given authorities a pretext to crack down even harder on dissent, pushing the country toward civil war.
The men are armed with rocket-propelled grenades, rifles and guns they took with them when they deserted, as well as light weapons they acquired on the black market, he says.
Communication with defectors on the ground is one of the biggest challenges to the group’s growth.
“We’re talking about troops who know the enemy very well, because they were members of these forces,” Mr. Kahwaji said. “They know them by name, their culture, their habits. They know all the secrets. They are a serious threat to the regime.”