Syria denies forceful conscription, opposition council calls for ‘jihad’ to protect nation

March 13, 2013

By Nuha Shabaan

A broadcaster on state television reads a statement from the government-approved Higher Council of Muftis on Monday

The Syrian state media on Tuesday denied reports circulating among the opposition that soldiers are arresting of-age men at checkpoints and forcing them to enlist in the Syrian army.

“There is no truth… that young men are being stopped at checkpoints and drafted into military service,” reported SANA, the official Syrian press agency. “The Syrian Armed Forces are [at] their highest levels of readiness and capability,” the statement read.

The denial followed a report from the Aleppo Media Center on Monday that government declares a “state of mobilization,” with reservists up to 35 years of age called to service, and some students “arrested at checkpoints and sent immediately to join the army.”

Anti-regime Syrians interviewed for this report in Hasakah and Idlib provinces disputed the official statement, saying the compulsory conscriptions were in fact happening.

“Army checkpoints have been capturing draft-aged men as they come back to town,” said Ahmad Ghannam, 25, a political independent and activist living in the eastern province of Hasakah.

“In Arihah, [regime soldiers] arrested some young men at checkpoints,” said Alaith al-Asi, an Idlib-based reporter for the opposition Free Syria Network and also a political independent. “Now men try to stay away from checkpoints.”

Calls for mobilization, or a-nefeer al-‘am, have come from both the regime and opposition in recent days, with the war of words intensifying in Syria at a similar pace as the violence. 

“We call upon our sons to meet their religious obligations by joining the Syrian Arab Army to defend our homeland,” the government’s Syrian Higher Council of Muftis said in a statement on Monday. “It is also a religious obligation of all Arab and Muslim countries,” the official statement continued.

The opposition council of Sunni Clerics, the Syrian Scholars' Society, on Tuesday called for Syrians to engage in jihad to fight against the government and to save the homeland.

The Syrian Scholars’ Society, an opposition council of senior Sunni clerics, put out an equally forceful statement just hours later. “Every Muslim everywhere is obliged to back his wronged fellow Muslims in Syria as much as possible,” the clerics said in a YouTube video statement. “We call for all Syrians who are qualified for jihad to defend their homeland.”

Both statements are worthless, al-Asi said, adding that “young men were joining the Free Syrian Army before this announcement.” Still, the Idlib reporter did find one positive in the statement made by the official Council of Muftis, led by Sheikh Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun.

 “Hassoun’s announcement gives us hope the regime is falling apart” al-Asi said.

Jacob Wirtschafter contributed reporting to this article.