London, Asharq Al-Awsat- As al-Assad’s military campaign on Idlib and Jabal al-Zawiya continues, Staff Brigadier General Fayez Qaddur Amr, who left the Syrian regime a month ago and joined the defecting Syrian officers in Turkey, confirmed that six generals have recently arrived in Turkey and joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA) there, after defecting from the Syrian regime. He said: “I can confirm their defection and they are with me now. Two of them come from Latakia, one from the Golan Heights, one from Idlib, and another from Homs.” He added: “Some arrived two days ago and the others yesterday afternoon.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat in a telephone interview, Amr said that “a large number” of military personnel are planning to defect from the al-Assad regime soon.
For his part, FSA media official Fahd al-Masri, who was speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from his headquarters in Paris, went further to say that 12 senior officers have in fact defected. He elaborated that “six generals, four colonels, a lieutenant colonel, and a major have announced their defection. A female first lieutenant has become the first woman to defect from the Syrian army. She defected on International Women’s Day in order to symbolize the role of women in the Syrian revolution.” He added: “Two or three other officers – whose ranks are currently unknown – have also sought refuge in Turkey and will join the Free Military Council.”
The Turkish state news agency, Anadolu, reported that 10 senior Syrian Army officers, including four generals and two colonels, have defected from the regular army and arrived in Turkey. Anadolu quoted local sources in Turkey – speaking to the Agence France Presse (AFP) – detailing that these officers came from Damascus and Homs (in central Syria) and Latakia (northwestern Syria). However, Fayez Qaddur Amr would only confirm that six generals have defected. Yet he said that over the past days he has observed a large number of civilians arriving in Turkey, and added: “There may be other military personnel among them.”
Commenting on the recent developments in Baba Amr, the defecting staff brigadier general said: “Had the fighters in Baba Amr been from the al-Assad army, they would not have been able to withstand as much. The district has been subjected to over a month of bombardments. Baba Amr has been destroyed and is now in ruins.” He added: “There are neighborhoods in that district where not a single house is left standing. Nevertheless, the regime failed to reach the fighters and revolutionaries who eventually withdrew, they did not flee.” Fayez Qaddur Amr continued: “The heroes of the first and second world wars were not as courageous as the FSA personnel in Baba Amr. Our men carry rifles against 120km-range Scud missiles, which the regime uses to target them in a tactical manner. The regime also uses rocket launchers against fighters armed only with rifles. It is a heroic stance.” When asked about the situation in Idlib and whether the city will face the same fate as that of Baba Amr, the defecting Syrian brigadier general said: “All roads there are cordoned off. There are tanks deployed in the north of the city. An entire division is there even though no armed action has ever been carried out in the city of Idlib. The protests there have been peaceful.”
With regards to the actual role that the defecting officers are currently playing in Turkey, Amr said: “We are with the Syrian people and we will soon act on the ground.” He added: “I appeal to the world leaders whose calculations were wrong to revise these calculations, as this regime does not belong in the middle ages, let alone the 21st century, in terms of its brutality. We call upon Arab rulers and democratic nations to help provide us with – I will not say heavy, but medium-caliber – weapons so that we can defend our people.”
The defecting Syrian brigadier general asserted that al-Qaeda has no presence in Syria. He said: “I swear on my military honor that there are no al-Qaeda elements in Syria. There are no al-Qaeda members among our groups, so let the West rest assured. Al-Qaeda was created by the Iranian regime, and the rumor of an al-Qaeda presence among us has only served the Syrian and Iranian regimes. Iran created al-Qaeda even in Somalia.”
With regards to the Free Military Council and the FSA’s relationship with the Syrian National Council (SNC), Amr said: “We and the national council will soon form one body. The SNC also needs international assistance. We promise our people that there will be joint military and political action. As military personnel, we must have a political cover, so that the world feels reassured.”
In response to Kofi Annan’s visit to Syria, Fayez Qaddur Amr claimed: “His visit is of no concern to the Syrian masses. Annan knows what the Syrian regime is. The regime does not understand the language of dialogue.” He added: “We call for an end to the acts of killing. In the name of all military personnel, we reject his [Annan’s] stand. Can he bring humanitarian aid to Homs? The regime has killed around 150,000 people. Even Syrian children know that the government-promoted figure of 8,000 deaths is a lie.”
Meanwhile, a Turkish source revealed that UN and Arab League peace envoy to Syria Kofi Annan will soon visit Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, the inhabitants of which have fled the acts of violence in their country. Annan will soon also hold talks with Turkish officials.
A diplomat told AFP: “Kofi Annan has expressed his wish to come soon to Turkey and we gave our consent.” The diplomat said that the former UN secretary general will visit camps in Hatay, southern Turkey, near the Syrian border where some 12,000 Syrians have been living since March 2011.
Another source close to the Turkish government disclosed that this visit to Hatay and Ankara will take place in the coming days, but the NTV News Network reported that Annan will arrive in Turkey specifically on the 12th March. The Turkish official also confirmed that more Syrians, including military personnel defecting from the Syrian army, have arrived in the country.