News / Middle East

Reports of Syrian Defections Signal Further Splits

This undated amateur video image posted on the internet and shown on Syrian state television shows a Syrian policeman lying on the ground apparently dead from gunshot wounds in Jisr al-Shughour, northern Syria. (AP cannot independently verify the location
This undated amateur video image posted on the internet and shown on Syrian state television shows a Syrian policeman lying on the ground apparently dead from gunshot wounds in Jisr al-Shughour, northern Syria. (AP cannot independently verify the location

Reports of defections among Syrian security personnel are raising questions about how well the leadership can control the moral, religious and political factors influencing people in the country. 

Elite forces of Syria's security apparatus are said to be converging on the town of Jisr al-Shughour, in the aftermath of what the government says was the ambush and killing of 120 of its forces by "armed gangs."  

But witnesses in the region counter the official report, saying that the victims included soldiers who balked at orders to open fire on protesters, and were killed by government loyalists.

Reports of Syrian Defections Signal Further Splits
Reports of Syrian Defections Signal Further Splits

Human Rights Watch researcher Nadim Houry says it is very hard to confirm these reports, because Jisr al-Shughour has been largely cut off from the rest of the world and access to residents who fled to neighboring Turkey has been restricted.  But he says there have been precedents.  

"Based on what we've seen in other towns where we have managed to do a lot more research, in southern Syria, in Daraa, for example, we know there have been some defections and in some cases some soldiers have come under fire from the security forces for defecting," said Houry.

Political observers believe some of these soldiers may have been shocked when they encountered ordinary people, rather than the thugs and terrorists the government said were behind the unrest.

Abdelaziz Sager is the chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

"The government may have deceived the people by not really providing the real information on security officers being directly involved and so it happened to be innocent people, peaceful demonstrations where people were demanding real, legitimate demands and they saw the oppression the government decided to use against them.  This may be an important element [that] made them decide," said Sager.  

For rank-and-file soldiers, those protesters are often very much like themselves, from middle, to lower-middle income families, with no connection to the minority Shi'ite Allawite leadership of the mainly Sunni country.

Assad's 'family business'

According to political analyst Sager, this collapse in keeping the country firmly under the control of the ruling Assad family can be pinned on the current generation led by President Bashar al-Assad.    

Sager argues that the president's father, Hafez al-Assad, rallied Sunnis and even Christians under the Baath political banner of Arab nationalism - while also employing massive oppression.  The current Assads have had to fall back on just oppression, but how far to use that, according to Sager, is a matter of debate and nervousness within what he calls "the family business."  

"Some may want to go for reforms," he said. "Others may believe if you do reform, this is it, this will lead only to much more deterioration and more concessions.  Others believe using a strong force, using the security method may work better and this is what we have seen now in the divisions and diversity between the approaches that each one with his background and his character is playing things.  But, in the end, both know they are all losers. In the end, they know they lose - they all lose."

The continued protests in the face of the brutal crackdown - human rights observers believe some 1,300 people have been killed in the past three months - would seem to indicate the Assad family's options are becoming increasingly limited.     

"The main factor for the government crackdown has been anyone protesting against the government or anyone who's not towing the line completely," said Human Rights Watch researcher Nadim Houry.

The risk of such a blunt tactic is that it only creates more opposition to the government, as the recent defections in the security forces appear to signal.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More