The Syrian regime may be their sworn enemy, but rebels fighting to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say they pay hard cash to government agents for guns and bullets.
For Syria’s plethora of armed opposition groups, obtaining weapons is a constant struggle. Furious with the West for failing to provide heavy weaponry, they say they have little choice but to line al-Assad’s coffers.
In a country where national service is compulsory, and a conflict where brothers fight on opposing sides and rebels defect from the armed forces, they say it is not difficult to find a “middleman” or an “old friend” to help.
“We buy from al-Assad spies and on the market,” Major Abu Mahar said.
He claims to lead 200 men who conduct “special missions” against al-Assad’s forces. Yet like other units, they are poorly armed with machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles and homemade rockets and bombs.
Seven Kalashnikovs hang upside down from hooks and a bucket of bullets sits in the corner of Abu Mahar’s office in a converted gym, which overlooks the mirror-lined workout room where bodybuilders used to flex their pecs.
Abu Mahar defected this summer from the air force. Like other rebels, he still has associates in various branches of the Syrian government military and security.
Abu Mahar says a bullet costs 110 Syrian pounds (US$1.60) to buy from the regime, compared with US$2 on the market.
He claims that most of his group’s ammunition supplies come from the shabiha, the term used to refer to state-sponsored militia.
“We buy them from double agents, they need the money. The shabiha’s God is money. They don’t care about anything else. If you give them money they’ll even sell you their own mother,” he said. “They have open access to army, police and intelligence bullet stores. They’re saving up for when the regime falls.”
However, Abu Mahar is evasive about where and how often the exchanges take place. He says his network uses a “pointman” or an “old friend,” and they do not meet face to face.
Rebels seem unperturbed about bankrolling their enemy, particularly when the West has declined to provide heavy weaponry and there is no prospect of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone that was so vital in toppling former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
“They’ve already taken our money for the last 40 years, our gold, our minds, what difference does it make?” said one member of the main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in northern Syria near the Turkish border.
For Yussef Abud, a commander in the FSA’s Tawhid Brigade, it is a matter of survival.
“What can I do? Sometimes I don’t have enough weapons or bullets. I don’t like it, but without these bullets and weapons, many FSA will be killed,” he told reporters.
Rebels also take guns from soldiers they kill on the battlefield, while others who defect from the regime often manage to smuggle their weapons out with them.
Sitting guard in an old sports complex on the Aleppo front line, Mohammed Abu Issam al-Halabi, 49, claims to have bought his Kalashnikov “from bad guys in the regime” for US$1,000 when he decided to become a mujahidin eight months ago.
“You can’t buy these on the market and I need a weapon. What can I do?” he said.
The former factory boss told reporters that before the uprising the gun would have cost only US$200 or US$300.
Across the road, Lieutenant Ahmed Saadeen, 24, agrees that buying armaments from the regime is right.
Like many rebels, he angrily criticizes the apparent refusal of the West and the Gulf to provide Syria’s rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
“Where else can we buy them?” he said, before sprinting away to dodge sniper fire.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
SHOW OF SOLIDARITY: The publisher’s ‘Apple Daily’ newspaper has had to raise the number of copies printed from 70,000 to 550,000 to meet a huge surge in demand They have occupied Hong Kong’s central business district, marched by the hundreds of thousands through the territory’s streets and endured tear gas and pepper spray in pitched battles with riot police. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters are now wielding a new protest weapon: their stock-market trading accounts. To show support for Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the publisher and outspoken government critic who was on Monday arrested under the territory’s new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have been piling into shares of his media company Next Digital. The result: a more than 1,100 percent surge in two days that propelled the stock to a seven-year