Thursday, November 17, 2011

Free Syrian Army grows in influence

Al Jazeera talks to FSA commanders, rights activists and Syrian people about structure and role of anti-Assad army.

Basma Atassi

"The attack by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on an air force intelligence base in the suburbs of the capital Damascus on November 16 has raised the profile of the band of army deserters, who are seeking to end President Bashar al-Assad’s long rule.

Depending on whom you believe, the group is believed to number between 1,000 and 25,000.

What is certain though, is that the deserters want to bring the Syrian government to its knees - by targeting its biggest strength, its 500,000-strong army.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Colonel Ammar al-Wawi, the commander of the FSA’s Ababeel battalion, said: "Our only goal is to liberate Syria from Bashar Assad's regime.

"To put it simply, we carry out military operations against anyone who targets the peaceful protesters."....

While anti-Assad Syrians agree that their uprising, which started in March, must continue until the current government is toppled, they do not necessarily agree on the role of the FSA in it.....

The main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has tried to maintain a middle-ground.

They voiced their sympathy with deserters and acknowledged their "legitimate role of protecting unarmed protesters," but they also said that they did not support the FSA's offensives.

"We must maintain the peaceful nature of the Syrian revolution and we are in continuous dialogue with the FSA to co-ordinate our political stance," Bassma Kodmani, the spokeswoman of the SNC, told Al Jazeera.

However, it remains to be seen how much influence could the SNC exert on the FSA.

Wawi told Al Jazeera: "Those who count on peaceful means only to overthrow the regime are delusional.""

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