Syrian defectors kick President al-Assad's forces out of one neighborhood in Homs
One journalist has just left Homs, and CNN is showcasing what he saw on front lines
They told him what was motivating them in their struggle against overwhelming force
In Baba Amr, many believe real change in Syria will only come from barrel of gun
Most of the Syrian fighters waging a guerrilla war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad are ill equipped – short on guns, ammunition and with no heavy weapons.
But while peaceful opposition to the government has grown in the city of Homs since the summer, military defectors, who call themselves the Free Syrian Army, have now managed to kick al-Assad’s forces out of one neighborhood and hold the area. Baba Amr is now possibly the first place in Syria beyond government control.
One freelance journalist and filmmaker – who is not named for his own security – has just left Homs, and CNN is showcasing what he saw on the front lines of a city at war.
He said fighters opposed to al-Assad took him into a house, where their men – one of whom had managed to take a rifle with a precision scope with him when he defected – were engaged in a shootout with snipers from the Syrian military.
They told him what was motivating them in their struggle against overwhelming force. “We might not have much ammunition,” one fighter said. “But we are fighting for our liberty and those guys are fighting for money.”
The men introduced him to one of their leaders, Abdul Razzaq Tlas, who was one of the few willing to be identified. He was a first lieutenant in al-Assad’s army before defecting and his uncle is a former Syrian defense minister.
He described why he decided to join the defectors. “We got orders in the army that went against my oath as a soldier. I had sworn to protect civilians. But when I saw what the government forces were doing to the people I defected, on June 2.”
People like Abdul Razzaq Tlas are heroes for the people of Baba Amr and he was cheered at a recent anti-government demonstration.
But Baba Amr is surrounded by the Syrian military, and constantly shelled by tanks and artillery. At a meeting in a safe house Abdul Razzaq Tlas insists that even though al-Assad has not used his air force against the uprising, only a no-fly zone imposed by the international community could help the rebels win. “We are in contact with soldiers who are in the army.” They say “a no fly zone is essential to prevent them from getting bombed if they defect.”
For now the men of the Free Syrian army smuggle fighters in and out of the neighborhood they control, evading government checkpoints. At night, they search everyone entering and leaving their area to stop government death squads, the so-called Shabiyah, from entering.
“The street you see over there is controlled by the Shabiya,” said one militia member. “They are known to kidnap our woman and childen. We try to prevent this. When strangers come here we stop and search them.”
The people of this part of Homs are not afraid to take to the streets – there are regular night-time rallies – but after months of casualties, they have long lost their faith in non-violent protest.
In Baba Amr, many believe that real change in Syria will only come from the barrel of a gun.