Opposition sources said thousands of Syrian soldiers, most of them
Sunnis, have fled their Alawite commanders and formed militias. They said
the militias were organized in most major Syrian cities and particularly
along the borders of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
"They have caused a major change in how the Syrian military operates,"
an opposition source said.
The militias were believed to be aligned with the Free Syrian Army,
commanded from neighboring Turkey. The sources said between 3,000 and 5,000
fled the Syrian Army, some of them with their weapons.
The Free Syrian Army has claimed a membership of 10,000, most of them
Sunni soldiers. In September, the opposition force said it shot down a
Syrian Air Force helicopter near Damascus, a report that has not been
Western diplomats have confirmed a rebel military presence along the
northern Syrian border with Turkey. The sources said defectors also formed
armed neighborhood watch groups to stop Assad's forces, particularly in the
areas of Hama and Homs.
The rebel militias were said to have ambushed Assad patrols,
particularly in the northeast. The Free Syrian Army, which claims 12
battalions, has announced attacks on regime forces on buses and at
The largest of the rebel units was identified as the Khalid Bin Walid
Brigade, said to have up to 2,000 soldiers. The brigade, equipped with
rocket-propelled grenades and shoulder-fired air defense missiles, has been
deployed in Homs and battled Assad forces throughout September.
"We are free officers who reject the oppression of people and protect
innocent people," Lt. Mohammed Abdul Aziz Tlass, leader of the Walid
So far, more than 700 Syrian soldiers and police were said to have been
killed by the militias. The sources said the militias targeted Alawite
commanders, killing a battalion chief, while urging Sunni soldiers to join
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has identified Jabal Al Zawiya
as a hub for defectors on their way to Turkey. The British opposition group
said many of the defectors were captured and executed in a recent military
operation near the Turkish border.
On Sept. 26, four Syrian soldiers were killed by Assad forces during an
escape attempt in the Idlib province. The opposition said another seven
alleged defectors were captured.
The Assad regime has acknowledged the rebel militias. On Sept. 26, the
military reported the discovery of a weapons cache, including an Israeli
assault rifle, in Homs as well as near the border with Jordan. At the same
time, thousands of Syrian troops, backed by helicopters and main battle
tanks, assaulted the northern city of Rastan as part of an operation to
capture escaped soldiers.
"The seized weapons include 25 pump-action shotguns and 10,000 pistol
bullets in addition to military uniforms, remote control devices with a
wireless set and radio-controlled detonators," the official Syrian news
agency, Sana, said.