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Syria: disillusioned rebels drift back to take Assad amnesty

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A member of the Free Syrian Army aims his weapon as fellow fighters stand behind him in Deir al-Zor

Hundreds of men who took up arms against President Bashar al-Assad are defecting back to the government side, The Telegraph has learnt.


Disillusioned by the Islamist twist that the “revolution” in Syria has taken, exhausted after more than two years of conflict and feeling that they are losing, growing numbers of rebels are signing up to a negotiated amnesty offered by the Assad regime.


At the same time, the families of retreating fighters have begun quietly moving back to government-controlled territory, seen as a safer place to live as the regime continues its intense military push against rebel-held areas.

 

The move is a sign of the growing confidence of the regime, which has established a so-called “ministry of reconciliation” with the task of easing the way for former opponents to return to the government side.

Ali Haider, the minister in charge, said: “Our message is, ‘if you really want to defend the Syrian people, put down your weapons and come and defend Syria in the right way, through dialogue’.”

Mr Haider, who has a reputation as a moderate within the regime, has established a system in which opposition fighters give up their weapons in exchange for safe passage to government-held areas.

“I used to fight for revolution, but now I think we have lost what we were fighting for,” said Mohammed, a moderate Muslim rebel from the northern town of Raqqa who declined to give his last name. “Now extremists control my town. My family has moved back to government side because our town is too unsafe. Assad is terrible, but the alternative is worse.”

The prevalence of extremist Islamist groups in rebel-held areas, particularly in the north, has caused some opposition fighters to “give up” on their cause.

Ziad Abu Jabal comes from one of the villages in Homs province whose residents recently agreed to stop fighting the regime. “When we joined the demonstrations we wanted better rights,” he said. “After seeing the destruction and the power of jihadists, we came to an agreement with the government.”

Mr Haider said that he had attended a ceremony yesterday at which 180 opposition fighters rejoined the government’s police force, from which they had previously defected.

Although it was not possible to verify this claim, when The Daily Telegraph previously visited the reconciliation ministry’s headquarters in Damascus the office was crowded with the family members of rebels fighting in the city’s suburbs who said their men wanted to return.

A ministry negotiator, who gave his name only as Ahmed, was in the process of arranging the defection of a rebel commander and 10 of his men from the Ghouta district.

“It took us three months of negotiation and this is a test,” he said. “If this goes well, the commander says that 50 others will follow.”

He described the steps taken to allow the return of fighters willing to lay down their arms. First, he said, a negotiator must cross the front line for a meeting on rebel-held territory. “We have to hope the rebel commander orders his snipers not to shoot us.”

Would-be defectors were given papers allowing them to pass through Syrian army checkpoints, and then waited in a safe house until the officials could get their names removed from wanted lists held by the more hardline defence ministry and intelligence agencies.

The rebels “did not sign up to be part of extremist Islamist groups that have now gained influence”, he said. “Now they want to come back to a normal life.”

In the days before the regime took the town of Qusayr last month, The Telegraph saw mediators on the Lebanese border work with the Syrian army to secure an amnesty for fighters wanting to surrender.

The phone rang with desperate calls from the parents of the rebels. “These mothers know that this is the last chance for their sons. If they don’t give up their weapons now they will die because they are losing the battle,” said Ali Fayez Uwad, the mediator.

Comments   

Andy
#1 Very emotional but distractingAndy 2013-07-26 08:42
While the message from Ass'ads people is very convincing, it needs to be know that they have been the aggressor from the start when their guard began attacking people for rising and demonstrating peacefully.

One can clearly see that this is an attempt to save face without apologizing. When one has wronged, then an apology is more befitting. Otherwise, the Syrian protest and uprising will just be quelled and things get back to the order of the day where the regime elitists take care of their few.
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Nashid
#2 HijackedNashid 2013-07-26 10:46
The protest movement of the Syrians have been hijacked by a pre-planned, pre-meditated movement with Zionist ties to overthrow the Syrian government for Israel's benefit. The rebels who are fighting today in Syria are not fighting for the liberation of Syria for just rule. They are fighting to eliminate Syria as a threat to Israel, an assault against Iran and to create disorder and chaos in another Muslim country to weaken it for Israeli domination.

Wake up! Israel has attacked Syria 3 times and the same destroyers of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan are the ones backing the destruction of Syria. Do you think they are doing this to support the Syrian people?

But as evidenced in Libya, all that needs to be done now is claim that leaders are killing their people and the US and NATO will have all the justification they need to attack other sovereign nations.

We are led to believe that the same murderers of millions of Muslims, plunderers of their lands and haters of Islam have transformed themselves into the saviors of the Muslim masses. We should not be fooled by their appealing propaganda playing on the goodness of our hearts. Their goals are always the same -- steal Muslim countries resources and gain world dominance for Israel's benefit.

They see how easy it is to provoke protests in Arab countries, send their mercenaries in to kill the people, blame the killings on Arab leaders and then bomb those countries. They are very selective about this process choosing to execute the complete process in Libya and now itching to do it in Syria on their road to waging war on Iran.

Their aim is to weaken and decimate Muslim countries whether friend or foe. Tunisia and Egypt were friendly countries whose cruel, corrupt and self serving leaders did more to please the West than to satisfy the needs of their people.

Libya and Syria are not considered friendly countries by the West in the same light as Egypt and Tunisia. Yet friend or foe, both types of leadership has to be toppled because the aim is to leave the Muslim world weak and helpless subject to the dominion of the West. Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples of what they want for the Muslim world after their escapades of bringing "freedom" to the Muslim masses. That "freedom" has only left those countries ruined and destroyed in much worse shape than they were in before their "saviors" from the West invaded.
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