After 16 months of pleading for the international community to act and help end the slaughtering of countless innocent Syrians, an activist from Homs who attended the Friends of Syria conference, Friday July 6, 2012 announced that “Syrians no longer want “safe zones” because “we created them from the inside with our own hands.” What he continued to ask for, however, was the implementation of a no-fly zone.
Yet as the international community continually fails to take immediate action, another power within Syria is incrementally improving and gaining a stronghold on several cities in Syria: the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The FSA, comprised of mainly defected military personnel, recently dealt a serious blow to the Syrian regime. On Wednesday, July 18, as the conflict had escalated in Damascus, Syria’s capital and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Syrians worldwide rejoiced at the news of the death of four security aides and members of President Bashar Al-Assad’s inner circle. Among the killed in the bombing of the National Security building, reported Syrian State media, were Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha and his deputy Assef Shawkat - Assad’s brother-in-law, the Interior Minister Mohammad Shaar and the Assistant Vice President, Hassan Turkmani. The FSA later released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
While rumors quickly began spreading about who plotted the attack and who were among the dead, two things were certain: that the embattled president was quick to escape – now assumed to be in the city of Latakia- and while weakened, the regime was not going to easily give up control of the country. The attack took place two days before the arrival of the Holy month of Ramadan and since then, Assad military forces and thugs, known as Shabiha, have begun retaliating, indiscriminately killing between 150-200 people daily since.
Yet while the violence continues to escalate, the resolve of Syrians, home and abroad, has not wavered and they now believe, more than ever, that the regime’s end is within sight. More defections, especially of high officials, are taking place and people are becoming more vocal over the atrocities committed by the regime.
“The death of the senior regime officials represents a huge blow to Assad and his remaining cronies, and indicates that the regime’s collapse is imminent,” said Rafif Jouejati from McLean, Va., spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. “The civil resistance movement in Syria has been re-energized. Abroad, more Syrians are speaking out in favor of the opposition and more former regime supporters are switching sides as they watch the Assad ship sink before their eyes.”
“The most recent developments in Damascus have appeared to be the tipping point leading to further advancements for the revolution,” said another vocal activist from Columbus, Ohio. Kamal Haykal, founder of the Syrian Sun, a bilingual online newspaper believes the attack has begun “exposing the vulnerabilities of the regime.”
Many proponents of freedom and regime-change only began voicing their opinions when the first tanks began rolling into Daraa, the city now known as the birthplace of the revolution- several people opposed the regime before then, but within the privacy of their homes. Racan Alhoch, resident of Wayne N.J., and his family have always been against the regime, but according to him, he began aiding the revolution around July of 2011 after footage of two-year-old Oula Jablawi revealed she had been shot in her eye.
“We must be ambassadors for our cause,” he said, “spread awareness, and let those inside know we are thinking of them constantly.”
Syrians in the United States have come to feel it is their duty to publicly speak out and garner as much attention as possible in hopes of bringing awareness to the American public. Yet with a government as vindictive as the Assad regime, being vocal only meant putting loved ones in Syria in danger of torture, abuse and death. A price, many have said, they have become willing to pay because “the situation in Syria transcends personal fears,” explained Jouejati.
Sawsan Jabri, a board member of the Syrian Expatriates Organization living in Michigan, feels that there is no longer a need to “monitor our activism.” “Assad is targeting everyone, not only the active... they kill infants, kids, and seniors.” While some activists were forthright with their identities from the beginning, others gradually overcame their fears. Haykal only became forthcoming, he said, after constantly watching unarmed Syrians “bravely confront tanks and armies.”
Activists understand the risks but believe fighting for freedom and justice “is a cause that is much bigger than ourselves,” said Alhoch. “The blood of my family is not worth more than any other Syrians’ blood.”
However, as Syrians abroad continue to aid in the fight for freedom, thousands inside are trying to escape from the violence, seeking refuge in neighboring countries as the situation continues to deteriorate rapidly. The United Nations currently places the number of refugees that have openly sought help at around 112,000.
Jouejati characterizes the situation in Syria as “devastating for all,” both pro and anti-regime forces alike. The dire humanitarian situation and ongoing violence, she said, has created a “state of panic and fear” among all Syrians.
Yet, while the FSA continues to grow, its members still lack sufficient coordination and adequate weapons to protect against ground and air troops. Without the necessary help, the battle for their liberation is only drawn out and will only yield more victims.
This has only lead Syrians in America to express their discontent with the minimal and inadequate help the U.S. has provided. “The situation in Syria has reached genocide-like proportions and the world community has a moral responsibility to ensure that world citizens are not butchered,” said Jouejati. As Assad continues to lose control, many Syrians living in America are expecting the U.S. to provide medical and humanitarian aid, as well as “do all it can, short of [putting] boots on the ground, to put an end to the killing,” said Jouejati.
However, with the limited assistance and increased violence, more and more Syrians are either joining the FSA or supporting their efforts, because they have come to realize that help will only come from within. “I don’t expect anything from anybody,” said Alhoch after “witnessing so much bloodshed. This is an atrocity and a black mark on all of humanity and it is a prime example of how disconnected all people have become from one another… The people on the inside are the ones who will get the job done. Unfortunately, armed resistance is the only route Assad has left us.”
Despite the fact that the FSA still needs to improve its coordination, Heba Fesal, a member of the SEO and the Syrian Sun living in Ohio, believes that their “efforts and strategies will evolve.”
It is still unclear just how and when Assad will fall, but Syrians are certain that the end is near. Some have speculated that the toppling of the regime will come by way of the FSA as they have begun to gain control of cities all over Syria. In the past few days, the FSA has already won control over several border points with Turkey and Iraq, cities in the suburbs of Damascus, and some control over the largest city in Syria, Halab.
And while many victims would love to see Assad persecuted and held accountable for his crimes, a few have also come to agree on allowing him to safely step down and flee, if that should end the killing, especially now that many fear the government will resort to the use of chemical weapons. Recently, the Arab League offered Assad and his family “safe passage” from Syria; however he rejected the offer, leaving Syrians the only option of forcibly bringing down the regime from the inside.
It might take some time, said Fesal, but the “Syrian people are hungry for freedom and will get it sooner or later.”