Though disparate, Syria rebels tenacious against crackdown

The New York Times reports: More than a year into the Syrian uprising, protesters and fighters say, disparate opposition cells inside the country still scramble on their own for money and weapons, creating a risk that different factions will form conflicting loyalties to whoever ends up financing or arming them.

Those who have taken up arms, the fighters, acknowledge that they lack a workable chain of command to coordinate operations and channel arms supplies, even as they plead for international help.

Somehow, this decentralized patchwork of opposition fighters and activists has displayed the tenacity to withstand a withering crackdown that has left thousands dead and neighborhoods reduced to rubble. But it has still not managed to coalesce into a unified force, or identify a national leader, a clear ideology or specific goals — beyond bringing down President Bashar al-Assad. That atomization, many fear, could turn the country into “divided emirates” rather than a viable new system, Abu Omar, an activist in a Damascus suburb, said in a recent interview, complaining that some groups hoard arms and the power they bring.

“Deserving people are not being funded,” he said, “and all the money goes to people who do not deserve it.”

An eclectic mix of fighters and unarmed protesters opposes Mr. Assad. There are pious clerics and people who admit they rarely pray, experienced soldiers and barely trained former conscripts, wealthy doctors and jobless youths. Some say they want Islamic law, while others insist that civil law alone should rule. Their goals are matters of intense curiosity as the United States and others debate whether and how to directly assist the opposition inside Syria. Ask their views, and the answers can be complex.

The Associated Press reports: The woman wearing a blood-red dress stood in the middle of a busy intersection outside Syria’s parliament holding up a red banner: “Stop the killing, we want to build a homeland for all Syrians.” Drivers tooted their horns and supporters clapped.

Rima Dali’s act of defiance last month — which landed the 33-year-old in prison for several days — was a call for the opposition to focus again on peaceful protests to bring down President Bashar Assad. It has inspired other activists who worry that their cause is going astray as more Syrians take up arms in the face of the regime’s withering crackdown.

They say armed resistance costs the opposition the moral high ground and boosts the regime line that it is battling terrorists, not a popular uprising. The spiraling violence has also taken on fearsome sectarian overtones, threatening to push the country into full-blown civil war. Al-Qaida-style suicide bombings have become increasingly common.

“This is what the regime wanted and we fell in the trap,” said Anas, a 28-year-old from the central city of Hama who participated in the first marches against Assad in March 2011.

“People say the regime and the inaction of the international community left us with no choice, but I still think we would have been more effective if it had remained peaceful,” he said, declining to be identified by his full name for fear of retaliation by authorities.

But those favoring nonviolence are pushing back against a very strong tide. Barrages of gunfire by regime forces on peaceful marchers, military sieges of opposition areas and the snatching of activists from their homes over the past 13 months have convinced many that brute force is the only way to topple Assad.

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