May 23, 2013

Naser, 24, who asked that his last name not be disclosed, is a fighter with one of the battalions that fought and lost to the regime for the town of Halfaya last week. He is in his final year studying management at university. He discusses with Nuha Shabaan the FSA’s attempt to regroup after a crushing defeat and why rebel battalions intend to use the regime’s same methods against Alawi Syrians after what unfolded in this strategic Hama province city of 30,000.

Q: What is new in Halfaya today? Are there still citizens after the regime army entered it?

A: A couple of days ago, a massacre occurred in Halfaya, in which 15 were killed. After the FSA evacuated the village, the regime army entered it, stealing, burning, plundering houses, and setting fires to harvests. They didn’t spare a thing, and then they left it.

The village remained under their control, so they called for the citizens to return to their homes through the mosque road. They announced that in all the villages, so some citizens who didn’t find a shelter started to return. They didn’t expect that the Alawite citizens of Mhardeh would follow them, hours later, and commit this massacre. They declared in front of everyone that whoever returns will be killed. We don’t know why the FSA withdrew. We only received orders to do so.

Q: Are you saying that there are no citizens now in Halfaya? Who is protecting the local population?

A: We are reassembling and trying to get support to start a new battle for Halfaya. We want to respond to this massacre; I will not forgive the day when the regime army entered Halfaya. We detected the army’s radio transmission at 3 pm. It was Colonel Suhail giving orders to shabiha from Kamhana village. He ordered them not to leave a virgin in Halfaya.

We are reorganizing ourselves to start a new battle, but this time it will be in Alawite villages. They must feel afraid to be restrained. They will pay the price for what they’ve done to our mothers and sisters. We will take revenge using their methods. As for those who accuse us of sectarianism, yes, we’ve become sectarian after all that’s happened to us. Let the regime and the world say whatever they want about us. I challenge them all to experience what we’ve been through without becoming sectarian.

Q: Do you have the capacity to defend yourselves? Where did the withdrawn battalions go?

A: They’re now in the neighboring villages, like Kafr Nabboudah. Some of them moved to the eastern frontline, in Salamieh, but the majority is still in the neighboring villages. If these large numbers were united, we would have removed the regime long time ago.

Q: Some activists who communicated with us stressed that Jabhat a-Nusra did not participate in Halfaya battle. Is this true?

A: This isn’t true. I swear to God, Jabhat a-Nusra was the first to engage. They were on the frontline in the southwest and the east, and seven of their fighters were killed.

Q: Do you have any evidence Jabhat a-Nusra participated? Videos? Eyewitnesses? Were you taping the battle?

A: We have videos, but you can’t differentiate between the jihadists in battle. Most of Jabhat a-Nusra’s jihadists are Syrian rebels. Most of them come from Halfaya, including the leader. They wear normal outfits and don’t have anything special compared to the rest.

It’s not true that they are foreigners with black flags and so on. They’re locals from this area. We knew one another even before the revolution. They’re not takfireen or extremists. We used to have parties before the revolution. They’re normal people just like you and me. I will tell you a secret: Those who were considered to have a dark past have proven they’re the most brave and sincere, compared to those who used to claim heroism.