By Salam Hafez
Well into the eight-month uprising, the Syrian opposition remains divided over strategy and the best direction to take to topple the regime without risking a civil war.
Some of the Local Coordination Committees, LLC, the groups on the ground organising the actual protests, are lobbying the Syrian National Council, SNC, an opposition coalition, to accept an offer of weapons and cash from Libyan Transitional Council’s Mustafa Abdul Jaleel made last month, which they have declined.
LCC activists say they are willing to begin arming and financially supporting army defectors, but SNC officials, who still hope for a less bloody outcome, refuse to militarise the uprising for fears of fuelling a civil war that would pit the majority Sunni population against the minority Alawite and delegitimise the thus far largely non-violent revolution.
The LCC’s position on militarising the revolution is supported by the Free Syrian Army, FSA – revolutionary forces largely made up of regime troops who’ve defected to the opposition.
FSA spokesman Munhil Hashem al-Adday said that the FSA and activists have opened a bank account for the sole purpose of buying weapons and supporting military missions.
Adday, based in Turkey, said the FSA currently funds itself from whatever donations it can access.
“Our operations in Turkey and in Syria are funded by us,” he said. “I pay for myself to stay in Turkey as do most members. We depend on the generosity of the Syrian people.”
Claiming there have been an increasing number of defectors, particularly in Homs, he added that weapons were also being smuggled from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and even purchased from the hired state thugs known as shabiha.
But he said that the FSA would defer to the SNC regarding large-scale weapons imports.
“We have our brothers in Libya waiting on sending shipments in but the [Syrian National] council has declined and they are our representatives, as we don’t have any political ambitions aside from protecting the Syrian people,” he said.
An LCC activist in Aleppo told IWPR that local chapters had offered financial support to the SNC to provide the FSA with arms.
“The [LCC] leadership here did contact the SNC in order to offer financial support and they declined, but some are taking it on themselves to finance the FSA and we are buying any weapons that we can,” said the activist.
Adday said that the FSA’s other requests included a protected buffer zone for civilians and a no-fly zone.
“The situation in Syria is deteriorating, we are fighting gangs and we are fighting all the time – [but] the SFA is not capable of mounting a war and we need support,” said Adday. “We are anticipating international help soon.”
Meanwhile, two days after the SNC ruled out negotiations with the regime despite a new Arab League agreement that it halt violence against civilians, withdraw their armed forces and release political prisoners, LCC activists on the ground claim that other opposition factions have attempted to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Bashar al-Assad’s embattled government.
These negotiations would have seen a 70 to 30 per cent ratio between the opposition and the Baath party in a new parliament, with an amnesty for anti-regime activists, but the opposition negotiators, who have not joined ranks with the SNC, pulled out feeling that a complete victory was in sight, several activists told IWPR.
Despite the regime’s move to accept the Arab League proposal, violence has continued and more than 40 civilians – including 25 in Homs alone – have been killed in clashes, bringing the total number dead to over 4,200.
Homs activists say more than 500 soldiers, supported with tanks, attempted to break into several neighbourhoods and arrest civilians. The FSA has also been active in combating regime troops in the city, with fierce battles reportedly taking place between the FSA’s Omar Bin Khatab brigade and Syrian security forces in Bab Omar, a Homs neighbourhood of some 60,000 people.
“In places like Homs, there is a martyr or two from every home,” said one local activist. “The people from Hama and Homs will not stop until they hang Bashar after what he has done to us.”
Salam Hafez is IWPR’s Iraq Editor. This article was published by IWPR at Arab Spring Issue 38.