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“Our orders were to retake the towns and cities by any force necessary,” said a former soldier who identified himself only as Fadi out of fear of retaliation against his family, still living in government-controlled areas of Syria.
“We took sniper positions on rooftops and were ordered to start shooting people,” he said. “We soon realized that we were not in Israel but in Syria and that the women were not Jewish but were wearing the hijab and speaking Arabic.”
The majority in the Syrian army are drafted for two years’ service.
About 70 percent of conscripts are from the Sunni majority, although 90 percent of the officers are from the ruling Alawite sect and other minorities, Mr. Gerges said.
“The regime is relying on less and less of its forces because it doesn’t trust the majority, and that’s why the bulk of soldiers are not being thrown into the theater of operations. There is a fear that they are unreliable or they are not confident of their loyalty to the Assad regime,” he said.
“The soldiers are not being mobilized, but they might have to be eventually. They might have to take their chances because the rebels are really exhausting the Assad forces, and that’s their strategy — to overextend the Assad forces.”
Nadim Shehadi, an analyst at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said, “Some of the soldiers have been killed by the regime itself because they refuse to obey orders or [regime loyalists] heard they were going to defect.”
⦁ Osborne contributed from Berlin to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
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