Nir Rosen reports for Al Jazeera:
AJ Editor’s note: Al Jazeera special correspondent Nir Rosen spent seven weeks traveling throughout Syria with unique access to all sides. He visited Daraa, Damascus, Homs, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo to explore the uprising and growing internal conflict. In the first article of his series he meets with leaders of the armed opposition in Homs. Names of some of the individuals quoted have been changed to protect their identities.
Homs – On August 31, I met up with a trusted acquaintance called Abu Omar (not his real name). I had been waiting for this meeting with anticipation, as the people involved were extremely hard to reach. They were constantly evading the regime.
Abu Omar called the night before to let me know it was going to happen. The next morning I awoke excited. Adding to my nervous energy, the mobile network in town was shut off. Unable to call Abu Omar, I decided to go to the café near where we had last met, hoping he would find me.
Concurrently, he was sitting in the car near where he had last dropped me off, hoping I would find him. Two hours after the pre-arranged time, he pulled up to the café. He asked me what devices I had and instructed me to remove the batteries from my mobile phone.
We drove north to Rastan, a city with a strong opposition presence. The last time I was there, several weeks earlier, I had counted 50 tanks along the perimeter of the town. As we drove toward the town, the scene was wholly different, not a single tank in sight. Rastan felt liberated.
Abu Omar was a senior coordinator in the country’s six-month-old uprising and was involved in opposition activities since 2007. He lamented that to date, the revolution had only succeeded in costing the lives of three thousand people.
“After Libya, many people said it was a mistake to have a peaceful revolution and if they had done it like the Libyans they would be free by now,” he said.
As I spent more time in Syria, I could see a clear theme developing in the discourse of the opposition: A call for an organised armed response to the government crackdown, mainly from the opposition within Syria. Demonstrators had hoped the holy month of Ramadan would be the turning point in their revolution, but as it came to an end – six months into the Syrian uprising – many realised the regime was too powerful to be overthrown peacefully.
Previously, on August 25, I met with a senior opposition leader in Damascus’ large suburb of Harasta, an anti-regime stronghold. The government had cracked down harshly on demonstrations there, though the armed opposition had been able to kill many members of the security forces.
“In the end we cannot be free without weapons,” the leader said. “It’s necessary, but not by the people, by the army; we need defections.” [Continue reading…]