Until a month ago, Lieutenant Hassan was serving in the Syrian Army’s fifth armored division, which has been putting down riots around the country since March of 2011. But he finally decided he could no longer point his weapon at his own people.
Aided by an organized network operated by the Free Syria Army, Hassan and another officer managed to defect. This week, while fighting forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in the battered city of Homs, he offered, between angry curses, a rare glimpse into the daily atrocities taking place there.
Communicating over Facebook with Shai Levi, of Israel’s Channel 2 News, Lieutenant Hassan wrote: “All my life I knew that my weapon should only be pointing at the Zionists who conquered the Golan. When the demonstrations began. I believed they were the work of the Zionist Mossad and the CIA, who pushed the weak and the poor to rise up.”
Hassan continued: “The great Allah gave me nightmares. It was obvious to me that I’m not permitted to shoot and that I must escape. I planned my escape for more than a month, along with two other heroes, until we managed to connect with men connected to the living shaheed Ali.”
According to Hassan, Ali is a Colonel who deserted from the Syrian army and now commands a unit of the FSA near Lebanon’s northern border with Syria. Ali commands a network of emissaries who are experts at contacting officers and enlisted men looking to defect.
According to Shai Levi, the process of interviewing Lieutenant Hassan was complex and circuitous, utilizing coded messages and breaking frequently to switch to different pages, all in order to elude Syrian Intelligence. For all Hassan had known, the nice Israeli reporter on Facebook could be trying to lure him into a torture dungeon.
Hassan is a resident of a suburb of Damascus. At 25 he is still single, perhaps because he has been in the military for the past seven years. His parents and brothers are still at home near Damascus, and he fears for their lives were he ever to be detected.
Today it is quite clear that the protests of last spring have evolved into a full scale civil war. The Free Syria Army is a guerilla force that was founded by deserting Colonel Hussein Harmush. Harmush was captured by units loyal to Assad and appeared on national television to renounce the rebellion. It helped that his house had been burnt down and a few family members were executed.
How was Hassan able to shoot his own people?
The deserting Lieutenant says he witnessed executions of soldiers who refused to shoot. He tells of one soldier in his division who tried to escape after hearing about the Hamma massacre, and after capturing him the unit’s commanders decided to execute him in front of his peers. “First they shot his knees, and only after he was screaming in pain did they finish him off. Allah is my witness that this soldier is a shaheed (martyr) today. After he was dead they cut off his head and threw it before the assembled soldiers. The message was clear.”
The SFA has been boasting substantial victories in recent months, and as many as 20,000 fighting men, most of them defecting Syrian soldiers. Its new commander, Colonel Riad al-Asaad said this month that his forces control half of Syria. Between battles they update their Facebook page.
The bulk of the fighting today is taking place in Hamma, where the military is using the airforce, in addition to tanks and artillery. So far the accepted casualty figure stands at 7,000.
Lieutenant Hassan is blunt about the chances for a rapprochement between Israel and the rebels. “Don’t let the Zionists think that after the regime will be changed we will put down our swords. The Golan and the Zionist state are still considered Dar al Harb (war zone). Once we liberate Syria from the corrupt ones, we will be stronger against the Jews.”
Earlier this week, the Jewish Press reported on a live, on-camera phone conversation between Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and the Galilee Ayub Kara and defecting Syrian Army officer Abu Bilal, who urged Israel to support the Syrian populace against President Bashar al-Assad’s terror.