Are Syria's Rebels as Violent as Assad?
The gains have come with disturbing new signs — video decapitations, al Qaeda links, and more — that the rebels may end up nearly as brutal in victory as the regime they're hoping to replace.
Syrian rebels are starting to choke off the government's access to its own country, bringing hope that the war may be slipping away from Bashar al-Assad. But the gains have also come with disturbing new signs — video decapitations, al Qaeda links, and more — that the rebels may end up nearly as brutal in victory as the regime they're hoping to replace.
NBC News reports that ever larger patches of the country have fallen under the control of the rebels, with only the military strongholds like bases and presidential compounds in Damascus still belonging to the regime. In the Northern part of the country, near the city of Aleppo, "the rebels control the countryside and open roads, and the Syrian army only controls the bases and the skies." Of course, controlling the skies is an incredibly powerful advantage in any war, so the government is still able to inflict heavy damage on the rebels, even if moral among the troops is lower than ever.
Meanwhile in Damascus, fighting has come with one mile of Assad's office. One Mideast professor tells Reuters that Assad "is no longer the president of Syria, he is the governor of Damascus." No matter strong his ability to fight back remains, there seems to be no question that his influence over the nation is shrinking and there's no telling how long he can successfully hold out.
However, what might be considered good news for the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups is tempered by a disturbing video making the rounds online. The clip that was posted by rebel websites appears to a show a boy around the age of 12-to-15 years old decapitating a man with a large sword on behalf of some rebel group. The victim was allegedly a commander of Syria forces who helped lead one of several assaults that devastated the city of Homs. The video is extremely graphic, so watch at your own risk, but keep in mind that there have been a number of fake videos circulated by both sides throughout this entire conflict. (A famous one, of a prisoner being beheaded by a chain saw, was actually a video shot by Mexican drug gangs several years ago and re-dubbed with Arabic voices.)
In any case, we have seen plenty of real evidence of the rebels taking out their vengeance on people who were (or were suspected of being) on the side of the government. In a difficult twist, several key rebels have ties to al Qaeda, as The New York Times reported over the weekend. And so given the chaos we've seen in several other nations as governments fall in the Arab Spring, it's entirely possible that Assad's brutality will be passed on and the bloodshed will not end even if his regime is ended.