Sunday, December 23, 2012

When and how started the armed struggle in Syria?

In this post I want to investigate when and how the peaceful protests evolved into an armed struggle. Additional information is welcome.

Just like previous posts about foreign involvement in the Syrian uprising and misbehavior by the rebels this is meant as a post to be regularly updated with new information.

The article "Has Syria's peaceful uprising turned into an insurrection?" from 9 June 2011 discusses the massacre at Jisr al-Shughur where 120 soldiers and police were killed. The government claimed it was done by rebels. The opposition claimed it was the government killing defectors. Anyway, it was the moment that the uprising definitively ended to be peaceful. Interesting is the notion in the article that prices for weapons on the black market in Lebanon were rising: Before the uprising in Syria began in mid-March, a top quality Russian AK-47 assault rifle, known in the local trade as a “Circle 11” from the stamp on the metalwork, fetched around $1,200. Today, the price has soared to nearly $2,000. A rocket-propelled grenade launcher, beloved of insurgents in the Middle East, has risen from $900 in early March to $1,000 while individual rounds have risen by 50 percent to $150 each. This means people were already arming themselves and preparing for war. Unfortunately the article doesn't provide more exact timing.

- The Price of Loyalty in Syria: In early April 2011, Aliaa told me, she was in traffic on a coastal road when she heard loud explosions and gunfire that lasted for several minutes. Only after returning home to Jableh, where she lives, did she learn that nine Syrian soldiers had been ambushed and killed nearby. Early reports described them as would-be defectors killed by their superiors, but no evidence for that claim has ever emerged, and amateur video taken at the scene suggests the killers were rebel gunmen.[]

That spring, despite the protesters’ insistence on an inclusive movement, sectarian rhetoric began creeping in. One popular slogan was “We don’t want Iran, we don’t want Hezbollah, we want someone who fears God.” This may sound harmless to outsiders, but in Syria it was a clear call to Sunnis to rally against their enemies. During the summer of 2011, a bizarre rumor spread that if rebels banged on metal after midnight and uttered the right prayer during the holy month of Ramadan, Alawites would disappear. When I visited Aliaa’s home, she led me out to the balcony and showed me a terrace on the neighboring building. “You see that terrace?” she said. “They were banging on metal in the middle of the night. My father got out of bed and shouted: ‘Shut up! We’re not going to disappear!’ ” Later, as we were walking down the stairwell, she pointed out a circle with an X in it drawn on the wall. “That was a symbol the opposition used to mark their targets,” she said. “The guy who lives there is the brother of a high official.”

Aliaa’s younger brother Abdulhameed described for me his own sectarian shock. He is a 23-year-old amateur boxer who was studying in Egypt last November, living with five Syrian friends in a house in Alexandria. One night a young man with an Iraqi accent knocked on their door and asked if he was Syrian. Abdulhameed said yes, and the Iraqi walked off. Late that night, a group of men tried to break down the door, while shouting sectarian abuse. Abdulhameed and his friends fought the attackers off and drove them away. “But the worst part came after,” he said. “A few days later there was a posting on Facebook, with our exact address, saying, ‘These guys are Syrians, funded by Iran and Hezbollah to spread Shiism in Egypt, and you must kill them.’ ” Three of the Syrians gave up their studies and went home.

- According the West Point study "Al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Record" Deir Al-Zour, Idlib and Daraa were top sources from which Al Qaeda fighters left for Iraq. This is rather similar to Libya where the Benghazi region was a top provider for both Al Qaeda and the uprising. See also Bombers, Bank Accounts and Bleedout: al-Qa'ida's Road In and Out of Iraq.

- Robert Fisk: The bloody truth about Syria's uncivil war tells the story from the point of view of the Syrian army, including the uprising that was armed from day one. One fragment: In Duma, a mosque leader told worshippers: "Among us, there is an Awaini," – a traitor. The man was beaten to death. His name is recorded as Abu Ahmed Akera.

- Syria: Seven Police Killed, Buildings Torched in Protests: Seven police officers and at least four demonstrators in Syria have been killed in continuing violent clashes that erupted in the southern town of Daraa last Thursday[=17 March]. So there were already armed protesters right at the beginning. Note that reports from 15 March - usually seen as the beginning of the protests - saw no police violence in Damascus.

- Robert Fisk: The war has reached Damascus, but for now it is not a warzone: In fact 25 days after the beginning of the revolution, a convoy of the government army’s 145th Infantry Brigade was attacked on Banias bridge. Up to 12 soldiers were killed, 40 more wounded.

- The Alawite Dilemma in Homs: He notes, in particular, the killing of Brigadier General Abdu Telawi, his two sons, and a nephew near Zahra in April 2011 at a time of heightened anti-regime demonstrations. The event was highly publicized with the mutilated bodies of the men and the funeral in Wadi al-Dahab widely broadcast on television. Interviews with the general’s daughter and his wife speaking in recognizable Alawite accents also highlighted the family’s sectarian affiliation. This incident is considered a major turning-point for the Alawite community of Homs

- Former Syrian Soldier Describes Life in the Army at the Start of War: Our unit was sent to Dara’a after the protests started in March of 2011 and our area was at the center of the problems because it contained the Umari mosque.[..] When we arrived in Dara’a we were given strict orders to never speak with civilians there.[..] In the beginning we were strictly prohibited from shooting at the protesters and the officers were very careful to avoid confrontation.[..] When this didn’t work, my captain ordered me to fire a tank shell into a building near the protesters, but we didn’t kill anyone until later in April.[..] Only one of my soldiers was hurt in the fighting while I was there. One night, we were at a security position outside our BMP vehicle when someone threw a grenade at us from a nearby building. One of my soldiers was hit by fragments, but he lived. Much of the fighting was at night when the resistance could move around without being seen. There was a lot of mortar and RPG fire at us, but it was mostly inaccurate. Because units didn’t talk to each other there were lots of friendly fire incidents at night, 20 soldiers were killed that way while I was there.[..] We were encouraged to abuse the people, even when it seemed pointless. We collected 2,000 motorcycles off the street and destroyed them. I ran over many with my BMP. The motorcycles are how poor people get around and live. We stole whatever we wanted from stores as we passed them. My soldiers’ favorite thing to steal was Marlboro cigarettes.[..] By August we were rounding up any young man we found, whether we were looking for him or not.

This video, dated 21 march 2011, shows the destruction of Baath headquarters in Daraa. In a similar attempt in Latakia a few days later two protesters were shot: Police were not in evidence when they marched to a cemetery chanting: "The people want the downfall of the regime," a refrain heard in uprisings from Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen. Emboldened by the lack of security presence, the mourners also chanted: "Strike, strike, until the regime falls!"

Syria's security forces seize arms smuggled from Iraq: Grenades, firearms and ammunition belts found in truck loaded in Baghdad. The story is no longer on the Guardian website. See instead here or on

Syria Daraa Revolution was Armed to the Teeth from the Very Beginning: Arab only; This is an interview of Anwar al-Eshki, a former Saudi commander, with the Arab BBC.

Syria Exclusive: Islamist Militants Fight Alongside Rebels: The Ahrar started working on forming brigades “after the Egyptian revolution,” Abu Zayd said, well before March 15, 2011, when the Syrian revolution kicked off with protests in the southern agricultural city of Dara’a. The group announced its presence about six months ago, he said. Abu Zayd denied the presence of foreigners, even though TIME saw a man in the group’s compound who possessed strong Central Asian features. “Maybe his mother is,” Abu Zayd said unconvincingly. “We are not short of men to need foreigners.”

In Homs, Syria, some decry U.N. aid effort as benefiting 'terrorists': Contrary to the widely disseminated narrative of a rebellion that began with peaceful protests, many in Zahra recall a wave of violence engulfing Homs amid a chilling rebel slogan: "Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the coffin!" As the war ground on, Alawites who say they faced expulsion or death in other areas fled to Zahra for safety, swelling the population. (9-2-2014)

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