March 9, 2015
By Ammar Hamou and Brent Eng
AMMAN: A Free Syrian Army-affiliated battalion and its commander defected from the opposition and joined the pro-regime National Defense Forces in southern Damascus over the weekend, several pro-opposition activists told Syria Direct on Monday.
“The main defections took place Saturday night when the leader of the battalion and its fighters surrendered themselves and their weapons to the regime,” said Mahmoud a-Shami, the pseudonym of an activist in southern Damascus.
The loss of the commander of Liwa al-Anfal and his 60 soldiers makes the operation one of the largest rebel-to-regime defections since the Syrian war began, reported pro-opposition news agency Thawra.
Sixty FSA soldiers defect to the regime over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Dam Press.
“The battalion had previously collaborated with the regime and had a bad reputation [amongst the opposition],” Walid Al-Agha, a southern Damascus-based pro-opposition citizen journalist, told Syria Direct Monday. It was not immediately clear why this battalion in particular decided to defect, though area activists speculate they suffered from a funding shortage and the regime was offering compensation for changing sides.
“In addition, the areas in which the battalion was previously stationed [in southern Damascus] fell to the regime because of treachery.”
Liwa al-Anfal is a small militia group comprised of local fighters from the town of a-Dhiyabiya in southern Damascus that was pushed out of the town a year ago when the regime took control of the area.
Prior to its defection, the battalion had been based in the opposition-controlled town of Babila, which, along with the adjacent towns of Yelda and Beit Sahem, have agreed to truces with the Syrian government.
The “betrayal” comes after months of coordination between Liwa al-Anfal and the regime in secret communications, reported pro-opposition news agency Zaman al-Wasl.
Official government news had not commented on the defection at the time of publishing.
The battalion had tried to defect to the regime a month ago, but were prevented from doing so by other rebels in Yelda, said al-Agha.
Instead, the former rebel brigade went to Yarmouk Camp where they gave themselves up to regime forces.
When the fighters surrendered to the regime, they took with them “weapons unique to besieged southern Damascus, such as DShk heavy machine guns, sniper rifles and B9 recoilless rifles,” the cousin of the defected commander told Zaman al-Wasl.
“The civilians of southern Damascus feel a sense of huge betrayal and a lack of trust after the defection,” the activist Al-Agha told Syria Direct.
“They view this move with contempt.”