Inside Syria’s Revolution: Outmatched Rebels Gain Ground Amid Crackdown
As President Bashar Assad continues his brutal efforts to maintain power, Syria’s rebellion has turned into a full-fledged civil war. Conditions are dire, but the outnumbered rebels report making progress. Eyewitnesses described the front lines for SPIEGEL.
It is a mistake to believe that dead people don’t talk. They talk nonstop in Syria, at least on the telephone. “It’s the last greeting from our martyrs,” says one of the young organizers of the resistance movement in a suburb of Damascus, as people around him discuss battles and changing fronts without fear that intelligence agents will monitor on their conversations. That’s because the insurgents are using phones that contain the SIM cards of dead people. They can no longer be killed, the man says calmly.
What began about 11 months ago as a peaceful protest for democracy and reforms has since turned into a war waged by the regime against large segments of the Syrian population. Month after month, protesters were beaten and shot, thousands were killed and tens of thousands disappeared without a trace — until autumn, when the rebels began returning fire.
International appeals and embargoes have failed to deter President Bashar Assad’s regime from responding with increasing violence. Until Friday of last week China and, most notably, Russia, had blocked every United Nations resolution against Syria. Not even the presence of an observation mission from the Arab League kept the regime in check. Instead the brutality has increased dramatically since the observers left on Jan. 28. Elite troops, particularly members of the 4th Division of the Syrian Army, under the command of the president’s brother, Maher Assad, are no longer shooting at individuals with guns. They are now using tanks and grenade launchers to bombard entire rebel neighborhoods from a distance.
It is an uneven match between the heavily armed troops of the regime and the poorly equipped rebels of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. Nevertheless, the rebels are gaining ground.