BEIRUT — Some in the rebel Free Syrian Free Army have high hopes a U.S. strike against the Syrian government will turn the tide of the civil war in their favor and put an end the fighting. As the U.S. Congress considers approving limited strikes to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, a Free Army captain in Lebanon, as well as analysts say these hopes will unravel when bombs start falling.
Under this bridge in Beirut, Syrian refugees say the local government kicks most of the families out during the day, but they are left alone if they return to sleep at night.
This man, Abu Yusuf, says he fled fighting in Syria and he fears if something doesn’t change soon, the war will continue indefinitely, eventually spreading into Lebanon.
A few hours away from the bridge, in a location more comfortable but equally as tenuous, Abdullah Tlass, a Free Syrian Army commander, visits with his family, who are also refugees in Lebanon. He asks us not to disclose his exact location.
While the children watch cartoons on television, he says American involvement in Syria’s two and a half year old civil war is the only way to stop the bloodshed.
Like his cousin, Abdul Razzaq Tlass, a better-known Free Syrian Army commander, Abdullah Tlass defected from the government army to the rebels more than a year and a half ago because, he says, he was told to kill innocent people. He says now he commands about 1,300 soldiers, but only 70 percent of them have weapons.
While many fear a power vacum will follow a victory by any group in Syria, Tlass says the Free Army has a government set up that could rule the country temporarily while they organize elections.
But he says, if the West does not commit to taking out the regime, the war will continue indefinitely because the Free Army will keep fighting to beat the government army and drive Assad's supporters out of Syria, he says, even if it takes 100 years.
No matter how long the war lasts, he adds, he wants his own children to go to school far away from Syria, which is in shambles with 100,000 dead and millions displaced.
Some analysts say the West should not intervene in Syria, precisely because the country is reeling. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 2 million people have fled and the agency says it is nearly $2 billion short of what is needed to provide the bare minimum of assistance to everyone.
This is Kamel Wazne, the director of American Strategic Studies in Beirut:
“We see Syrian children not being taken care for because there’s not enough money allocated to alleviate the pain and the suffering but we see all of the sudden countries - Arab countries and Western countries - wanting to put billions and billions for war. I think that’s a failure of leadership," said Wazne.
Wazne says supporters of the Free Army who believe American involvement will end the war underestimate the strength of Islamist groups in Syria, which are already drawing jihadis from other parts of the region to fight the regime.
Bombs aimed at the regime could turn Syria’s civil war into a regional war, he says, as sectarian divides cross borders. Lebanon has already become more violent, he adds, with nearly 50 people killed by a car bomb late last month.
“I don’t want to see a country next to my country in Lebanon headed by extremists, by al-Qaida, by terrorist organizations that cause a threat to me in my own country," he said.
Refugees say they need to have hope that the war will end, because they don’t know how long they can survive being refugees.
Abu Yusuf, from under the Beirut bridge, says he wants the people in the outside world to know something: If outsiders help end the war, he says, Syria - an ancient civilization with strong people - will rebuild their country as fast as it was destroyed.