Observers
Screenshot of a video filmed by Syrian army defectors and published on YouTube
 
Omar is a member of the Free Syrian Army, made up of military deserters who have joined the ranks of the opposition. The group attacked a Syrian surveillance centre in Damascus on Tuesday. Omar explains the main challenges the Free Syrian Army is facing.
 
The Free Syrian Army is run by colonel Riyad al-Assad with the goal of  “securing the dignity and freedom of the Syrian people, overthrowing the regime and protecting the revolution.” The FSA claims to have 15,000 fighters, a small figure compared to the regular army’s 200,000 soldiers.
 
The opposition National Syrian Council, the main group speaking for the revolution, has shown some support for this army of deserters, all the while cautioning against a possible militarization of the protest movement. However, the FSA is growing in popularity; it appears that some protesters no longer agree with the non-violent strategy adopted by the opposition at the start of the movement. One of our Observers in Homs, a city that has been at the forefront of the uprising, told us that the army was her "only hope.”

"We have soldiers hidden on the outskirts of several cities"

Omar (not his real name) was a regular army conscript. He defected several months ago to join the FSA. He is currently posted abroad to coordinate FSA activities, but he intends to return to Syria soon.
  
We have soldiers hidden on the outskirts of several cities: Daraa, Damascus, Homs, Hama, Idlib, Lattakia, Dair Alzour and Banias. It is hard to say exactly how many.
 
We only accept defectors from the regular army. The only civilians we have agreed to include are activists hiding from the regime, who risk execution if they are found.
 
Our main problem is that we lack weapons. All we have are AK-47s [assault rifles] and a few RPG-7s [rocket-propelled grenades]. These weapons were all stolen from the regular army. For now, we are unable to smuggle weapons from outside countries.
 
With this kind of equipment, we are able to slow down the advance of [Syrian President] Bashar al Assad’s troops, but we can’t really stop them. Regular citizens expect great things from us, but at the present time, we would be unable to take control of a neighbourhood, let alone a city. For now, we stick to quick one-shot operations, like the one Tuesday in Damascus. For us, this operation required months of training.
 
The international community should set up a ‘protected zone’
 
Soldiers defect every day. Only yesterday, a dozen joined my brigade in Homs. These defections could grow more frequent. The problem is that we have no safe place to regroup these defectors, because we don’t yet control any part of the country. 
 
For us to really be able to improve our military capacity, the international community should set up and enforce a “protected zone” in the north of the country – a place where we could regroup and organize ourselves.