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Earlier this year, a Syrian soldier defected from the Syrian military and joined the Free Syrian Army in the defense of the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, a suburb of the city of Homs.  He reports on how he joined the Free Syrian Army on the eve of a month-long siege of Baba Amr, and later escaped with the rebel forces. He is now in Lebanon and talked on Skype this week.  He said his name is Elias.

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  Elias in Baba Amr, March 30, 2012

In the beginning of January, you know, the first day of January, I got into Baba Amr and I told some friend of mine in Homs that I wanted to defect. I had one year of military service when I first went there. Through the first days in Homs the officer told me to shoot on the protesters and to kill them. “If you don’t kill them I will shoot you,” an officer told me.

They were shelling Baba Amr from outside, you know?  And they didn’t get into the city. They destroyed it first, then they get into it – Elias of the Free Syrian Army

He frightened me.

Most Syrian rebels pulled out of the besieged Baba Amr district of Homs after a 28-day siege by government forces. (Reuters)

I told my friend I wanted to defect from this violent army. And he gave me some telephone numbers.

This man called and said I am from your friend who is called Hasan and he told me you wanted to defect. I said yes.

“No problem,” he told me.  “We will protect you.”

When I get out of the military, he takes me to Baba Amr and here is the story.

When I get into Baba Amr, that is the first day of shelling.  I had a uniform and a rifle and I fought. Every day the shelling and the rockets started at 5 o’clock until I think 5 or 6 in the afternoon.  Okay? From the early morning until the last time of the afternoon.

The shelling ended in, I don’t know the time of ending the shelling, but I stayed in Baba Amr for 28 days.

They were shelling Baba Amr from outside, you know?  And they didn’t get into the city. They destroyed it first, then they get into it. They were shelling people and buildings.

They don’t concentrate. They don’t know who they are killing. They don’t know where the rockets go. They shell Baba Amr and now there are only two or three buildings, the highest buildings may consist of four buildings. This is not my imagination.

And if a rocket kills only one person, only God protects the people of Baba Amr.

In the beginning, the Free Syrian Army were not there in huge groups.  The number of Free Syrian Army is not that big. We don’t have rockets. We have only rifles and snipers. There were only four to six groups of 10 to 20 fighters in each group. But not that much. 

When I left there were, I think, 800 soldiers.  Now, I think only one or two groups are there now.

Through the days of the shelling every entrance for Baba Amr was surrounded by tanks. We have only rifles, no rocket launchers. I thought that every day that I will die.

I will tell you we are the Free Syrian Army. We don’t care if we die or not because of what we are fighting for. We will go to paradise. We don’t care about life.

Anyway, we will be back. We will do that. We will not be silent. We will be back as soon as possible – Elias of the Free Syrian Army

A journalist asked us, “What do you eat?”  We don’t care about eating. We don’t have time for eating, to drink water. We don’t have time for anything. You just want to fire, you just want to die.

I don’t care about our life. We care about our children. We are not afraid of these rockets.

Right now, I am not in the Free Syrian Army. I am a fresh graduate of the English literature department at Tishreen University in Lattakia.  I was a teacher. Now I am to talk to the western media and I have camera and you can say that I am an activist.

Now we want to go back, but the army is surrounding Baba Amr. We made a tactical retreat because we want no more civilians to die. Anyway, we will be back. We will do that. We will not be silent. We will be back as soon as possible.

The Fall of Baba Amr

The Homs suburb of Baba Amr was one of several parts of Syria held by armed activists and members of the guerilla force known as the Free Syrian Army. After approximately 30 days of constant shelling by Syrian tanks, Baba Amr fell into government hands. The Free Syrian Army withdrew about 800 troops, according to a government army defector who identifies himself as Elias. He joined the rebel force as the bombing began and helped defend the suburb until he and about 800 other Free Syrian Army fighters escaped in what they call a tactical maneuver to reduce civilian suffering.

The Homs suburb of Baba Amr was one of several parts of Syria held by armed activists and members of the guerilla force known as the Free Syrian Army. After approximately 30 days of constant shelling by Syrian tanks, Baba Amr fell into government hands. The Free Syrian Army withdrew about 800 troops, according to a government army defector who identifies himself as Elias. He joined the rebel force as the bombing began and helped defend the suburb until he and about 800 other Free Syrian Army fighters escaped in what they call a tactical maneuver to reduce civilian suffering.

The Homs suburb of Baba Amr was one of several parts of Syria held by armed activists and members of the guerilla force known as the Free Syrian Army. After approximately 30 days of constant shelling by Syrian tanks, Baba Amr fell into government hands. The Free Syrian Army withdrew about 800 troops, according to a government army defector who identifies himself as Elias. He joined the rebel force as the bombing began and helped defend the suburb until he and about 800 other Free Syrian Army fighters escaped in what they call a tactical maneuver to reduce civilian suffering.

The Homs suburb of Baba Amr was one of several parts of Syria held by armed activists and members of the guerilla force known as the Free Syrian Army. After approximately 30 days of constant shelling by Syrian tanks, Baba Amr fell into government hands. The Free Syrian Army withdrew about 800 troops, according to a government army defector who identifies himself as Elias. He joined the rebel force as the bombing began and helped defend the suburb until he and about 800 other Free Syrian Army fighters escaped in what they call a tactical maneuver to reduce civilian suffering.

The Homs suburb of Baba Amr was one of several parts of Syria held by armed activists and members of the guerilla force known as the Free Syrian Army. After approximately 30 days of constant shelling by Syrian tanks, Baba Amr fell into government hands. The Free Syrian Army withdrew about 800 troops, according to a government army defector who identifies himself as Elias. He joined the rebel force as the bombing began and helped defend the suburb until he and about 800 other Free Syrian Army fighters escaped in what they call a tactical maneuver to reduce civilian suffering.

David Arnold

David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.

2 Comments

  1. Brad Williams

    March 31, 2012

    Thankyou for the story of one man with courage. It should be a lesson to all soldiers, if you believe everything your officers tell you, you will become nothing more than a brainwashed buffon.

    Reply
  2. Brad Williams

    March 31, 2012

    Thankyou for the story of one man with courage. It should be a lesson to all soldiers, if you believe everything your officers tell you, you will become nothing more than a brainwashed buffon.

    Reply

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