- - Friday, March 16, 2012

ORONTES RIVER, Syria — In snow-flecked forests separating Turkey and northern Syria, a band of some 50 Syrian rebels regroups in a makeshift hillside base, safe for the moment.

With an escalating crackdown against regime opponents and no more than 30 assault rifles and a few shotguns among them, they still say time is on their side.

“We are not going to retreat nor give up,” said Abu Youssef, a 43-year-old building contractor turned revolutionary from Darkush, a few miles across the border in the Idlib province in Syria.

Mr. Youssef, who asked that his real name be withheld for his family’s safety, takes supplies across the border almost daily.

He said he was not political until he was held and tortured last autumn after being detained at a local mosque. He joined the revolution upon his release.

“The regime’s forces don’t respect anything,” he said. “I was arrested when I was praying.”

Meanwhile, his four sons, the eldest in his early teens, are refusing to leave Syria.

“I told them they had to leave,” he said. “The eldest told me ‘no,’ that they will bring down the regime or they will die trying.”

Waiting in the woods

As President Bashar Assad’s regime continues to shell Homs and escalates attacks on towns in the Idlib province, hundreds of Syrians — including rebel fighters — are fleeing to Turkey.

Among pine trees in a makeshift camp with a few mud-spattered tents, the rebels plan guerrilla raids into Syria, escort smuggled people and talk about the regime’s defeat.

They worry about how to get basic supplies such as food, weapons and communications equipment for themselves and into Syria. They express concern about informants among them, lured by money or threats against their families. And they hope for aid from the Arab world and the U.S.

They also express gratitude for Turkey’s lack of interference.

“The Turks give us no problems,” said Mazen Khalil, 34, gesturing to a watchtower manned by Turkish soldiers.

This night, lookouts scan the surrounding hills from deep in the scrub. Down in the valley, the rebels have laid primitive booby traps for Assad forces seeking to catch the wounded and the wanted being smuggled out of Syria.

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