Syria eyewitness dispatch: ‘I watched as Assad’s tanks rolled in to destroy a rebel town’

John Cantlie, an independent photojournalist, reports from the Syrian town of Saraqeb: The sound of the caterpillar tracks could be felt as much as heard, a deep rumble that sent a rattle through windows and a tremble of fear through the guts.

Then we saw them. Huge Soviet-made T72s, accompanied by troop carriers driving slowly into town, extra plates welded onto the sides to deflect rocket-propelled grenades. It was just after 9.30am, and the tanks were coming to Saraqeb.

“Light the tyres!”

The rebels of the Free Syrian Army in Saraqeb, a farming town of 30,000 in northern Syria, are better organised than many in the surrounding Idlib province. Squaring themselves away into formation around the central marketplace, they poured petrol on to truck tyres and lit them sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air, obscuring the sun and – hopefully – the tank gunners’ visibility.

Still the tanks came, driving into town one after another. The troop carriers stopped to take up holding positions, while the T72s turned in pairs to face towards the centre.

I had been smuggled into Saraqeb last weekend by a local guerrilla unit, keen to show the world that despite playing along with international efforts to broker a ceasefire, President Bashar al-Assad was continuing to use all-out force to crush his opponents. While he agreed last week to a six-point peace plan brokered by the veteran diplomat, Kofi Annan, what I saw for myself suggests the Syrian leader intends anything but.

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1 thought on “Syria eyewitness dispatch: ‘I watched as Assad’s tanks rolled in to destroy a rebel town’

  1. Osama

    I wonder if anybody noticed that the protestors were carrying rocket propelled grenades.

    the author writes:
    “For those on the receiving end, the smoke and chaos that engulfed Saraqeb last weekend disguised the well-drilled military procedure that was under way. It has been honed during sieges of other rebel hotspots, from Homs and Deraa to Idlib city and other towns across the province. The tanks go in first, shelling rebel positions and driving them out. The next day, there is random shellfire to soften the target. Then, once every rebel – and foreign journalist – has left, the ground forces go in. This way, there are few witnesses to what happens next.”

    OK, so once all the rebels leave, who is the army arresting or killing or whatever?! If we were being objective we would say that the army is probing and scouting the rebel positions and strength before going in. If we were being objective we would say that the rebels are armed and the government in any other country would do exactly the same – except we would call it “restoring the rule of law” or something of that nature.

    If we were being objective we would question, the $2000 Klashnikov and $4 bullet (a 30 round magazine would be $120), in a country with the average wage is $100-200 per month for working people, let alone poor farmers and students. These people managed to get the money how exactly? we won’t even go into the cost of RPGs and the grenades….

    If we were being objective, we would ask for more coverage of the true victims, the civilians, but I guess that’s not sexy enough to get published. There is one paragraph in the article which says it all:

    “”Please don’t shoot from here,” she begged the rebels. “My mother is very old and cannot move – if you shoot at them here they will destroy our house.”

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