Khaled al-Shami, a recent defector from the Syrian army, told Middle East Eye, "One important thing to realize is that there is no Syrian army anymore, it is just militias, mostly Iranians and Lebanese ... The Iranians and Hezbollah are not under the control of the Syrian army, it's the exact opposite," he said. "Ten high-ranking Iranian officers control the [ninth armored] division, they plan the operations. Only Iranian or Hezbollah forces can access operations rooms, no Syrian soldiers are allowed in ... (in every battle) the commander is an Iranian IRGC (Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps), his deputy will be a Hezbollah officer."
Damascus activist Khaled al-Shami, contacted via Skype, said rebels carried out a "tactical" retreat early Friday to spare civilians further shelling after five days of intense clashes between opposition fighters and regime forces.