Under Siege: A Syrian Diary
The rebels are no angels
When the peaceful uprising for freedom began in Syria, most of Homs’ intellectuals, students and merchants supported it.
At the beginning, we thought that our revolution would end the way other Arab uprisings ended: a political initiative punctuated by some concessions from both sides.
Back then, my friends and I believed that taking up weapons against the regime was out of question. We simply did not imagine that the revolution in Syria would become militarised. (Read more...)
But when Assad deployed his army in streets and stationed tanks in residential neighbourhoods, and as deaths increased dramatically, things changed.
The voices of those calling for a military struggle against the regime became louder. Many came to believe that the brutality of the Assad regime could only be met with violence.
Many university students, like me, did not dare take up arms. We had no idea how to use them, or and no understanding of how urban warfare works.
Those who were carrying guns at that time would become the core of what was later known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA). For the most part, this group was comprised of civilians who had some military or weapons experience and some who had, in their past, committed criminal offenses.
We couldn’t tell those members with questionable pasts not to protect us from Assad’s forces. We needed their experience and fearlessness. We needed people to help us, regardless of their backgrounds.
As time passed, the number of FSA members with criminal records became nearly negligible, as Syrian Army deserters and people from different classes began to swell the ranks.
Yet, even though the FSA has become a well-organised outfit, its few remaining ex-criminals are still sometimes difficult to deal with.
Some of them tend to believe they can make their own decisions because they take credit for being the first to hold arms against the regime.
This element of the FSA is not the only problem.
As the siege on Homs tightens each day, as the shelling continues and water and electricity remains cut, tension tends to rise among the rebels.
Some of the rebels have become defensive, waiting to cause problems just because they heard something they didn’t like.
For smokers, the lack of cigarettes in the neighbourhood has made things worse. They cannot quit smoking during these stressful times and few can find cigarettes.
Tempers have risen in these neighbourhoods and an incident from a few days ago gave me an idea of how much tension there is in the streets.
I was in a former school, now serving as home for many displaced families, trying to take photos of the damage caused by shelling.
While snapping photos, an FSA member told me not to post pictures online of the site because it contained many civilians. He said if regime forces see the photos, they would start targeting the school with more rockets.
I promised that my photos would not indicate the name or location of the school. He was convinced and he let me continue my work.
But moments after he left, another FSA member came in. He screamed at me: “You cannot take photos in this area. Are you collaborating with the regime? Do you want to kill the innocent people in the school?”
He grabbed me by my shirt while still screaming. He did not give me a chance to explain. He told me that he was going to imprison me.
Minutes into the screaming, many people gathered around us. I was able to explain to him that I already had an agreement with his comrade.
He finally let go of me and apologised. His threat to imprison me, however, did not leave my head.
Rebels are not angels. They sometimes act according to their own perception of what is right. They come from different backgrounds, and many are civilians who have never lived a military life.
Many lack the experience needed to handle with extreme situations.
Since its inception, the FSA has been trying to mitigate individual mistakes by training its members and allocating them individual roles.
Despite the difficult circumstances, rebels, activists and residents are working toward making the FSA work as an institution.
We have so far been succeding because we have faith in it.