How Syrians snipers operate: an Observer explains
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Since the unrest began in Syria in March 2011, our Observers in the country’s most rebellious towns have reported the constant presence of snipers. These snipers, who are on the government’s side, never stop firing, not even during the . One of our Observers explains how these snipers position themselves, and what civilians and rebel fighters do to avoid getting shot.
Screenshot from a video made in March. It shows a sniper in Douma.
Since the unrest began in Syria in March 2011, our Observers in the country’s most rebellious towns have reported the constant presence of snipers. These snipers, who are on the government’s side, never stop firing, not even during the so-called ceasefire. One of our Observers explains how these snipers position themselves, and what civilians and rebel fighters do to avoid getting shot.
According to the UN, more than 9,000 people have been killed in the unrest. Syrian human rights activist, meanwhile, have counted 11,000, most of which they say are civilians.
"When they receive the order to kill, the snipers obey"
Mohamed Ali is a member of the Revolutionary Committee of Zabadani, a city in southwest Syria. He left his hometown in February when the Syrian army took over the city, and is now in Deraa, a little further south.
In Zabadani, there are tall buildings overlooking the city, and from the top of these buildings you can watch over several neighbourhoods at the same time. This is where the snipers positioned themselves in the beginning. They were deployed there two days before the tanks invaded the city. Their mission was to facilitate the arrival of the army and ensure that they had total control of the streets. But things have changed, and now snipers have a different role. They are responsible for protecting soldiers from possible attacks by the Free Syrian Army [a rebel army made up of soldiers who defected from the regular army], and so now they are only deployed to the places where the army is operating. During the offensives taking place at the moment, it is the security forces and the army who attack the city first, before the arrival of the snipers. This makes the deployment of the snipers easier because both the locals and the Free Syrian Army are more concerned about fleeing or fighting than looking out for the location of the snipers.
A sniper is always accompanied by two soldiers, each armed with a machine gun. As a sniper can only fire one shot at a time, he cannot protect himself. So the soldiers protect him. He positions himself in a place that is protected but from which he can easily escape.
The fact that the Free Syrian Army don’t use snipers is more a question of means than morals. The majority of their weapons come from the black market and so they only have access to a limited number of models. The best assault rifles that the Free Syrian Army has are M-16s, which are no match for the high-performance Russian models used by the snipers.
"In some streets, there are signs that say: Walk on the right-hand side of this street. If you walk on the left side you will be in a sniper’s firing line"
Unable to match the snipers, Free Syrian Army fighters, and sometimes civilians, instead try to protect passersby by warning them about the danger. They put up signs saying: “Walk on the right-hand side of this of this street. If you walk on the left side, you will be in a sniper’s firing line”.
Snipers don’t necessarily shoot to kill – at least not in all cities. It depends on the orders they’re given. In Zabadani, for example, there have been very few people killed by sniper bullets. But their presence has inevitably had an impact on our daily lives and limited our access to certain parts of the city. If snipers are there to serve as a deterrent, they will fire near you to signal their presence, but they won’t shoot to kill. A young woman that I know once opened her window, not knowing that there was a sniper in the building adjacent to hers. He fired a bullet just above her shoulder. He could hit her, even killed her if he had wanted to, but his message was clear: close your window and move away from it. However, in Deraa, Homs, and Idlib, snipers shoot at everybody, irrespective of age or gender. When they receive the order to kill, they obey. There are no exceptions.
This sign in Zabadani reads, "Run, there's a sniper here."
Video filmed in Deraa. The person filming zooms in on the sniper, who is hidden behind sandbags on the top floor of the building near the checkpoint.
This post was written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.