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Syria: Preparing for Battle in Jisr al-Shughour

Young Syrians are preparing to strike back against government forces whose brutality has driven away most of Jisr al-Shughour's residents.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 6/9/2011, 11:18 AM / Last Update: 6/9/2011, 12:07 PM

What began as a simple grassroots protest in Syria has coalesced into an uprising that is becoming the Syrian Revolution of 2011.

Until this point, demonstrators in Syria have for the most part conducted peaceful protests. The majority of those who face the increasingly brutal government forces at the demonstrations are young and unarmed.

But that is changing.

Young activists in the northwestern city of Jisr al-Shughour say they are preparing for battle with the soldiers sent by President Bashar al-Assad – and they're not alone.

Soldiers who have defected from Assad's army are hiding in the town waiting to fight alongside them, they say, according to an article published Thursday, June 9 in the Wall Street Journal.

Most of their friends and relatives in the city of 70,000 have fled since Monday. There are more than 400 Syrian refugees in Turkey alone, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees there.

The few thousand young activists remaining in the Jisr al-Shughour are expecting a military reprisal promised by Assad who vowed to “punish those responsible” for the massacre of 120 soldiers earlier this week -- a threat that prompted the mass exodus from the town.  Eyewitnesses reported however that “those responsible” were actually members of Assad's own forces who fired on their fellow soldiers who had refused to shoot protesters.

A soldier from Damascus who defected to anti-government protesters told WSJ that “dozens” of his comrades have also done so. All told, some 2,000 defected soldiers now exist across Syria, he said, with many heading to Jisr al-Shughour.

The newly-rebelling soldiers are armed and organizing to make a stand for the first time since the uprising began March 15 against Assad's regime and its massive brutality against civilian protesters. More than 1,000 have lost their lives since the first protest, according to most human rights organizations; some groups put the count as high as 1,300 deaths.

How many civilian protesters are really armed, however, remains to be seen.

Western diplomats and some activists in Damascus have reported isolated incidents of protesters returning fire, according to WSJ. It was unclear, however, what kind of weapons they were armed with.

Pan-Arab satellite television network Al Jazeera meanwhile is reporting a growing sense in the region that the days of the Baathist regime, dominated by Assad's Muslim Alawite clan, are numbered. Turkey's leadership has urged Assad to step down, warning him that “time is running out.”

The leaders of Egypt and Tunisia were ousted months ago, and at least two others - Libya and Yemen - are now fighting for their regimes, and possibly their lives, as well.