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Wednesday, May 4, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Syria's Assad deploying only 4th, 5th divisions, controlled by his family, against demonstrators

NICOSIA — President Bashar Assad, fearing a mutiny, has been cautious in his use of the military to quell the revolt in Syria, sources say.


Western diplomatic sources said Assad has kept most of his army in barracks amid the revolt in Syria. They said the regime has used elements of the 4th and 5th Divisions, commanded by Assad's family.

"The last thing Assad wants is that young soldiers join the demonstrators and begin shooting at security forces," a diplomat who monitors Syria said. "There are already signs of this happening."

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On May 3, the Syrian opposition reported the defection of two Syrian main battle tanks in Rustun. The opposition Reform Party of Syria said the army threatened to open fire on the town unless the MBTs were returned by midnight.

The sources said Assad has used the 4th armored division extensively in battling both civilian demonstrators and suspected insurgents. The division has been led by Assad's younger brother, Maher, also regarded as deputy military commander.

"The division moves from city to city and fires indiscriminately," the diplomat said. "I don't think Assad could expect any other commander to order such attacks."

The president has also deployed the 5th Division, commanded by Mohammed Saleh Rifai, to quell protests in the southern city of Dera. Opposition sources said soldiers in the 5th Division, many of them residents in the area, have been refusing to fire and in some cases were shooting at the 4th Division.

As a result, the sources said, Assad has used the 5th Division for perimeter security while a range of plainclothes and other forces shoot demonstrators. The division has also been reinforced by the 132nd Battalion, deemed as loyal.

There have also been reports of the army's 11th Division being deployed on the perimeter of Telkelakh near Homs. The division was said to have provided cover for security forces that battled protesters in the northern town.

One of the most active security units has been the so-called Shabiha militia, comprised of young Assad loyalists from the minority Alawite sect. In Duma, near Damascus, Shabiha fighters, carrying assault rifles, were patrolling the streets, the sources said. They said Shabiha, which has ordered Alawis to stay home amid the search for Sunnis, has arrested more than 1,000 people in Duma, most of them young men, over the last three days.

In the northern town of Dir Al Zour, security officers were said to have killed at least four Kurdish soldiers who refused orders to fire on protesters. The sources said members of the General Intelligence Directorate, commanded by Assad's cousin, Atif Najib, were monitoring Kurdish and other soldiers.

"Questions are being raised both about the authorities' ability to control and discipline the security apparatus and about the security forces' willingness to convey to their political leadership a truthful picture of what is happening on the ground," the International Crisis Group said on May 3. "Even at the best of times, large segments of the security services have been plagued by sectarianism, corruption, incompetence and a sense of wholesale impunity. These features are all the more likely to surface amid a crisis."

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