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The Free Syria Army claims it has 10,000 soldiers, a number that is impossible to verify and some doubt, organized into 12 brigades, with the largest being the 2,000-strong Khalid Bin Walid Brigade in Homs. Despite its relatively low numbers, the Free Syria Army and its supporters are putting up a strong fight. It just took the regime’s forces several days and 3,000 arrests to seize the strategic city of Rastan in Homs Province, where about 1,000 defectors and residents fought the regime.
The FSA is ambushing vehicles transporting members of the regime’s vicious Allawite militia, called the Shabbiha. On October 1, it killed 5 militiamen near the Iraqi border. Nearly a dozen suspected regime informants have ended up dead in the city of Homs, such as the son of the Grand Mufti. The city is on the edge of civil war as rifles costing up to $2,000 each are being found. About 500 soldiers switched sides in and around Homs Province. At least three regime vehicles have been ambushed there, checkpoints are coming under fire, and a tank was struck with an RPG. There are clashes reported around the country at Deir al-Zour, the Mezzeh military airport near Damascus, Daraa, the northwestern province of Idlib, and Harasta, which lies on the outskirts of Damascus. There has also been fighting in the capital and dozens have defected in Hama and Latakia.
The FSA’s strength will grow as it shows its success and more defectors and civilians join it. On September 26, the regime arrested 7 soldiers and killed 4 when they tried to defect in Idlib near the Turkish border. A U.S. official estimates that there have been about 10,000 total defections. One defector said 4,000 soldiers are being held by the regime in Damascus alone for disobeying orders. An opposition site says over 22,000 troops have been jailed, including 7,000 officers. Armed groups allied with FSA are rising up near the borders with Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
The Free Syria Army has not joined any political party or opposition council and does not appear to have an Islamist orientation. A senior opposition leader in Homs says that the Syrian military is very secular, and so the defectors are not very religious. A journalist who interviewed members of the FSA said they “do not appear to consider themselves mujahedin or otherwise fit the stereotype of Islamic extremists. Accordingly, individuals…[say] Islam does provide them with inspiration and strength but they do not fight for Islam and their goals are generally secular.”
Since the uprising began, protesters have been peaceful as the tortured bodies of children are returned to families, demonstrators are mercilessly killed in the streets, and areas of unrest come under siege without access to food and medicine. The Bashar Assad regime is finally getting a taste of its own medicine.
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