BEIRUT (-ilo) – “Bashar al-Assad is a liar,” says Abu Seif. “There won’t be a ceasefire. Bashar won’t keep his promise.”
The 29-year-old Free Syrian Army fighter, who, like everyone else interviewed for this article, asked that his name be changed for security reasons, sits in the living room of a small apartment in the center of Antakya. The Turkish city, which is close to the Syrian border, has become a hub for the Syrian opposition. Half a dozen men sit next to Abu Seif on the couch, talking about the situation in their home country. Piles of open suitcases and pillows lie behind the couch. Nobody here believes in the ceasefire agreement.
“The Annan plan gives the Syrian regime just more time to kill us,” says Abu Seif’s comrade Abu Ahmed Marajani of peace envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to end the violence in Syria. Both Abu Seif and Marajani have for months fought the Assad regime’s troops in their home city of Edleb.
Under the Annan plan, the Syrian regime is supposed to stop all attacks and pull back all its heavy weapons from population centers by April 10. The FSA has to follow suit 48 hours later.
“The actions of the international community are just a game, just a theatre,” says Marajani, while watching video of recent fights on his laptop. No emotion crosses his face. “They are just doing this so they can say: ‘Look! We’re doing something for Syria!’”
Despite the general sense of cynicism about the ceasefire, the FSA wants to abide by it. It has no alternative, says Marajani. “When two brothers fight with each other, and the big brother suddenly stops, do you think the smaller one continues?”
Since the beginning of the year, the Syrian army has been making military gains, while the FSA is fighting hard but lacks weapons and ammunition. Since Annan put forth his plan over one week ago, the government has stepped up the violence and has surrounded rebel-held cities and begun shelling them. “We can’t even attack the regime’s troops anymore. We can only act defensive,” says Abu Seif, who was hit in the stomach by an anti-aircraft missile a couple of months ago. A series of five operations saved his life, and he still has a scar as large as a plate on his belly.
He took the money he had saved for his wedding and bought a Kalashnikov from a Syrian army officer. “We need weapons from the international community. You need feet to walk,” he says. “The only thing we can do at the moment is to slow down the advance of the troops, to give the people time to flee.”
“Bashar used the cover of the Annan plan for the biggest military offensive since the beginning of the revolution,” says Ahmed Beidar, a liaison officer between the FSA and the civilian revolutionary council in the restive city of Jisr al-Shughur. He and a group of other activists and fighters meet for a day in Antakya to confer and plan ahead. Afterward they cross back into Syria.
Assad’s recent offensive is proof enough for Beidar that the president is not going to keep the truce. “Douma, Homs, Hama, Edleb, Taftanaz, Aleppo,” he says, listing the cities that were attacked over the past few days. “The situation is so bad that we have to bury our dead in mass graves. We can’t keep up anymore.”
Next to Beidar sits Ala ad-Deen, the highest-ranking rebel commander in the Jisr al-Shughur region. “The conflict can only be solved militarily,” he says. “Nonetheless have we accepted the Annan plan and pulled back our troops. We are going to wait until April 10.”
What happens after is, he says, is unknown. “Even without the support of the international community, we can survive and sustain the fight indefinitely.”
Abu Seif and Marajani don’t see any alternative either. “Even if there isn’t going to be no ceasefire agreement and no support from the international community, we can’t stop fighting now,” says Abu Seif. “Bashar’s security forces would hunt us down and kill us.”
Marajani looks up from his computer. “I’m afraid,” he says in a low voice. “If the international community doesn’t supply us with weapons, we’re going to make them ourselves. It is easy to take fertilizer and a cooking pot to build a bomb. We’re going to wage a guerilla war.”