Syria sniper shot high when officers ordered him to kill

Syria sniper shot high when officers ordered him to kill

Syrian snipers have killed hundreds of protesters during the ten-month   uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The Sunday Telegraph met one who   became sickened by the killing and now wants to fight against the regime.

Syrian state television broadcasts pictures of thousands attending the funerals of 26 people killed in Damascus in Friday's suicide bomb attack

Syrian state television broadcasts pictures of thousands attending the funerals of 26 people killed in Damascus in Friday’s suicide bomb attack Photo: REUTERS
Nick Meo

By , Tripoli, Lebanon

8:43PM GMT 07 Jan 2012

For months Mohammed Ismael, a softly-spoken and clean-shaven 23-year-old, sat   on the rooftops of buildings in Hama, menacing the city’s population with   his powerful Chinese-made rifle.

He watched through his telescopic lens as men, women and children scattered in   panic as his shots rang out, dropping their anti-regime banners and running   for the cover of buildings and alleyways.

As a highly-trained sniper with the Syrian army’s elite 18th Division, he was   repeatedly ordered by his officers to shoot protesters. He observed as the   secret police arrested and savagely beat the people on the streets below   him, and he listened as a handful of his comrades, hardcore regime   supporters, boasted about their own prowess at hitting their mark – chalking   up tallies of dead demonstrators who, they believed, were stooges paid $100   a day by Israel and other enemies of Syria.

But Mr Ismael, a Bedouin Arab from the desert region in the east of the   country, was not so sure.

“At first we believed the officers when they said we were fighting   against enemies of Syria,” he said. “We weren’t allowed to watch   television and they took our mobile phones away, so we didn’t understand   what was happening in our country.

“We were so excited. We wanted to do our duty and fight terrorists. But   some of us soon realised that the crowds were just ordinary people, chanting   for freedom.”

He dared not refuse to shoot, aware that if he did so he could be killed   himself. Instead, he says, he was careful always to miss his targets: aiming   slightly too high, silently praying that his bullet would hit nobody, and   only then squeezing the trigger. To his relief, he claims, he never saw a   body fall.

Finally it all became too much and in October – by now posted to a village   near the Lebanese border – Mr Ismael decided to escape his unit. But as he   did so he was shot in the shoulder, almost certainly by his commanding   officer, he believes, and bleeding profusely had to be hauled to safety by   other refugees.

Now Mr Ismael is among the growing number of Syrian army defectors who have   found their way along a dangerous route across the border into neighbouring   Lebanon.

Some have now joined the loose organistion that they call the Free Syrian   Army, which is dedicated to fighting back against the regime – and Mr Ismael   is convinced that thousands more would leave their posts almost immediately   if only they had somewhere safe inside their own country to flee to.

“I wanted to escape in May, as soon as I realised that we had been lied   to,” Mr Ismael told The Sunday Telegraph at his hiding place in the   Lebanese city of Tripoli. “But there was nowhere to go then. Nearly   everyone in the government army is secretly against the regime, but who   wants to lose his life and throw away his future and that of his family for   nothing?

“They would all defect if they had a chance.”

Like other army deserters, he believes the West has the means to provide that   chance, and perhaps force the rapid collapse of the regime. “If there   were a no fly zone, and some protected territory where army deserters could   flee to, it would all be over quickly,” he said.

“Thousands of soldiers would defect, and they would kill the hard-core   generals who still support President Bashar al-Assad. Peaceful protests are   not enough. We need the Free Syrian Army and it needs the support of foreign   countries.”

After 10 months of mostly peaceful protest in which the United Nations   estimates 5,000 demonstrators have been killed, more and more opponents of   Syria’s brutal regime are resigning themselves to the need to take up arms.

On Sunday an Arab League committee meets in Cairo to decide on whether to   allow a team of monitors inside Syria to continue its work – where violence   has not abated since it entered last weekend.

To add to the growing death toll inflicted on protesters, on Friday a suicide   bomber apparently targeting a police bus in central Damascus killed 26   people and wounded 63. The government blamed the bloody attack on al-Qaeda,   vowing an “iron fist” response. But a spokesman for the Syrian   National Council blamed recent bombs on the “regime’s dirty game”,   and activists pointed out that the attack was in Midan, an area with regular   demonstrations on Fridays.

Soldiers who have deserted to Lebanon were blunter. Mr Ismael said: “There   is no al Qaeda in Syria, this was done by the regime to try to frighten   people. They want Syrians to think that if the regime falls, there will be   bloodshed and civil war like in Iraq. Syrians know it is not true, they know   the regime are killers.”

Karalokh Kal, a Syrian activist who fled to Beirut six weeks ago, said: “The   regime was always a supporter of al Qaeda in Iraq so why should al Qaeda   attack them now?

“The regime is ruthless enough to shed the blood of the poor, even of the   thugs who it pays to support it who were killed in this bomb.”

Protesters in Syrian cities now call for military support from the West, after   crowds initially insisted that Syrians could carry out a peaceful revolution   by themselves.

Even educated liberals support the armed option, in many cases with a heavy   heart.

“When I started protesting in the streets my parents said the regime   would kill us, but we didn’t listen,” said one idealistic young medic   who was forced to flee to Lebanon from Homs when the secret police came   looking for him.

“We were hopeful and we thought we could bring the government down like   they did in Egypt. Now I think the Free Syrian Army is the only way. And it   needs weapons and help from abroad.”

Syria’s divided opposition in exile has argued over whether the revolution   should take up arms and seek foreign military help. Last week in an   interview with The Daily Telegraph the head of the Syrian National   Council, Burhan Ghalioun, called for limited Western intervention, including   air power to protect pockets of territory where anti-regime forces could   rally and train – along the border with Turkey and perhaps the border with   Jordan.

So far Turkey has talked tough but has refrained from active intervention,   despite the flood of refugees entering from across the Syrian border, and   other Western powers have remained unwilling to repeat their successful but   expensive operation to enable regime change within Libya.

Those Syrians who hope the West will change its mind have been heartened in   recent weeks at hearing stronger French criticisms of the Damascus regime.

But for now, the Free Syrian Army consists of only a few thousand   lightly-armed men, capable of launching hit-and-run attacks against the   regime but not a threat to its survival.

Its leader, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, last week threatened to launch attacks from   his refuge on the Turkish border, but it was doubtful how many men really   answer to him or what damage they can inflict.

Defectors claim that tens of thousands of soldiers have now fled their   barracks, in many cases with their guns, and some have attempted to protect   demonstrations from attack, with limited success. But the regime’s army   probably still exceeds 300,000 men, armed with tanks and heavy weapons,   making it a far more formidable force than anything at Colonel Gaddafi’s   disposal in Libya.

Other army defectors whom The Sunday Telegraph met last week, huddled   over a stove in the lawless Wadi Khalid area along the mountainous border,   were hazy about the SFA to which they claimed to belong.

A former soldier called Zain said: “At the moment when a soldier defects   he doesn’t know where to go, he needs sanctuary. If the SFA held territory   inside Syria thousands would desert. We know that many of our old comrades   would be desperate to get out of the army if they had a chance.”

The defectors are scathing about those activists who have themselves fled to   Beirut, the Lebanese capital, but who still insist that their Syrian compatriots   can bring down the regime without foreign help.

“Those activists who say we need a peaceful revolution, they are sitting   in bars in Beirut enjoying themselves and they have no idea what it is like   on the ground,” said a colleague.

“They can’t see what is going on and they don’t understand how much   people are suffering in places like Hama. Food is cut off for neighbourhoods   that are anti-regime, there is no power, and snipers shoot people at random.

“I’m sure that in these conditions, most people in Syria want foreign   military help. They don’t want ground troops, but they do want a no-fly zone.”

Whether they get it or not, the defectors are determined to fight against the   regime, and believe they now have no choice.

“If we fight, we believe we will win eventually. If we stop fighting,   Assad will kill us all,” Mr Ismael said.


The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
-Steve Biko (South African anti-apartheid activist 18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) in a Speech in Cape Town, 1971

“Power is worth nothing, while you stand as an enemy to the people.”


“Every tiny action by seemingless ordinary people may be seen as a pin-prick in a small piece of card-board. Yet it is each ONE of these barely observable holes that makes a miniscule difference… through allowing a glimmer of light to shine through. And it’s the myriad of tiny flickers, thousands and thousands at a time that can shine the brightest light in the darkest of places.”

– craig

“You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.”

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