Finding weapons a priority for Syria’s defiant rebels
Syrian rebels in Turkey are regrouping despite some bitter defeats at the hands of president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and say their top priority is finding weapons and ammunition to boost their firepower.
Ahmad Mihbzt, who said he was a sergeant who defected from the Syrian army, spoke this weekend in Gorentas, a Turkish village just a few miles from the Syrian border. The 25-year-old is one of hundreds, possibly thousands, of rebels who have fled to Turkey, where many hope to turn the tide of the fight back in their favour.
“We are regrouping,” Mr Mihbzt insisted. “We are working on finding weapons.”
Syria’s second city Aleppo was hit by a car bomb yesterday, a day after twin blasts killed 27 in the capital Damascus.
State news agency SANA said the attack by “terrorists” had killed two people and wounded 30 others. Opposition activists said three died in the explosion, close to a political security office and a church.
In the capital yesterday, as crowds gathered for memorials to victims of Saturday’s car bombs, activists said security forces beat and arrested people at a march of more than 200 when protesters began shouting “the people want to topple the regime”.
Activists said yesterday’s march aimed to commemorate the peaceful roots of Syria’s uprising, which has been overshadowed by a growing armed insurgency against state security forces.
Illustrating just that, Mr Mihbzt said he had been among some 200 rebels, including military defectors, fighting Syrian troops in the village of Cenudi, near Idlib. About a week ago, government forces routed the rebels after shelling the village from about two miles away in an operation that used hundreds of soldiers, he said.
Mr Mihbzt and his 20 men left their weapons with other rebels who fled to nearby mountains and began a 16-mile walk toward the Turkish border while under fire from Syrian forces. He said the rebels withdrew in part to protect the civilian population from further harm.
Now he is in a refugee camp in Turkey that houses about 500 former members of the Syrian military. More than 15,000 refugees labelled as civilians are in other border camps. Heclaimed thousands of those refugees also are members of the Free Syrian Army, a statement difficult to immediately verify.
The rebels’ top priority is gathering more weapons and especially ammunition, Mr Mihbzt said.
As part of their strategy, rebel fighters are targeting Syrian soldiers on patrol or sentries guarding various facilities to seize their weapons. The rebels also hope to capture arms depots belonging to the Syrian army, he said.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been discussing military aid, but EU governments, the United States and others have not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged battle.
Syria has a complex web of allegiances that extends to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, raising concern that violence could spread beyond its borders if other nations directly arm the rebels or send in their own troops.
A major challenge facing the rebels is a dearth of cash with which to buy weapons and ammunition. Mr Mihbzt said the rebels mostly had Kalashnikovs, some rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns. He said finding ammunition in good condition is a problem. But he insisted rebels would not give up their quest to overthrow the Assad regime.
“We don’t accept the defeat,” he said. “We will fight until our last drop of blood.”
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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