As the Syrian Arab Army advances and discontent builds with jihadists, some anti-regime fighters begin thinking of taking advantage of an amnesty and going over to the other side, writes Alexander Romanov.
Assad started to win not only on the battlefield, but in the battle for the minds
Hundreds of Syrian rebels lay down their arms, disappointed in the “jihad.”
Any civil war comes to an end. One of the signs of war ending is soldiers of one of the warring sides returning to their homes, laying their arms down first. It is this process which started unexpectedly in Syria, where several hundred opposition fighters disarmed and took advantage of the amnesty declared by the authorities.
It is too early to speak about a steady trend since the opposition forces are between 50 to 100 thousand people, and the number of those who call it quits does not account for much, but if this trend broadens, there will be an important psychological and propaganda victory for the Syrian government forces, “Kommersant” newspaper says.
However what is clear now is the motives that prompted former rebels to return to civilian life: strengthening the position of Islamic radicals among the rebels (this fact scares many moderate Syrians, not wanting to go back to the Middle Ages) and a series of military victories of government forces in various parts of the country.
Amnesty for former rebels was declared by Ali Haidar, the head of the recently created Ministry of National Reconciliation. Haidari is one of the moderate members of the Assad team. He promised that the opposition fighters who are willing to lay down their arms, will not be prosecuted and will be able to return home to civilian life.
The other day it convinced 180 former police officers, according to The Telegraph, who had previously defected to the opposition, and have now realized that they do not want to be among the rebels. Authorities have already said that these people are not stained themselves with war crimes and are not associated with extremist group and will be able to continue to serve in the police.
This is how the former rebels explain their move. “When we joined the revolution, we wanted to fight for our rights. But now, seeing the scale of destruction and learning what it is to live under the jihadists rule, we prefer to negotiate with the government, “- says one of the former opposition fighters Ziad Abu Jabal, who returned to his village near the city of Homs.
Another amnestied fighter, Mohammed from Raqqa, a town in north of the country, complained about his lost ideals: “I fought for the revolution, but now we have lost the ideals for which we fought for. My city was seized by the extremists, it’s too dangerous to live there. My family was forced to move to the area controlled by the government. Assad might be terrible, but those who might replace him, are even worse. ” He chose to live with the lesser of two evils.
Now it is important that reintegration of the former opposition fighters back into the peaceful life is successful. Then they might be followed by their like-minded fellow fighters, discouraged by recent successes of the government forces and disgruntled by the influx of “jihad fighters” from around the world into their country.
As we know, the Syrians, who began the fight against al-Assad, demanded more democracy, not strengthening Islam. But the the situation had leaned towards the sectarian conflict, and now they are afraid of a possible war between Sunnis and Shiites. They already have something to compare. “Al-Qaeda” forces establish Sharia law in the areas under their control while the Assad regime, no matter how tough, is secular after all, and is perceived as a lesser evil.
Considering the situation, Ministry of National Reconciliation made a very timely decision to introduce a program which allows the opposition fighters to lay down their arms in exchange for a safe passage to the government controlled areas.
Currently the headquarters of the Ministry of National Reconciliation in Damascus is filled with family member of insurgents, the British newspaper reports, who are asking to pardon their relatives and insisting that the only thing they want – is to go over to the government side and return home to a normal life.
Recently the minister took part in the ceremony, during which 180 former police officers previously sided with the rebels were amnestied. Relatives of those rebels who have not surrendered yet are flooding the office of the ministry, hoping that this is the last chance for their loved ones.
“If they will not hand over their arms now, they will die because they are losing the battle,” – said one of the military responsible for the amnesty program.
On the other hand, all of this can change if the West decides to supply the rebels with heavy weapons. Right not it refrains from doing so, fearing that these weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic radicals, but the successes of the Syrian government forces may make it less cautious. After all, the Western powers had very high hopes for the fall of the Assad regime, and, I think, they are not very pleased with seeing the regime restoring its influence.
If such deliveries begin, it will be the best indicator of who is really for peace in Syria and who is not.