November 11, 2013
On October 29th, President Bashar al-Assad issued a “general amnesty” for men who had not completed their mandatory military service or who had deserted the Syrian army, provided they turn themselves in within a specified period.
Mohammed Najeeb Rajab, 38, served as a brigade leader in the Syrian army before defecting a year ago. Today he is the leader of the Free Syrian Army-affiliated al-Karama Brigade in the town of Houla, outside Homs.
Rajab spoke with Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri about why he believes the general amnesty is a ploy to replenish the army with Sunni cannon fodder.
Q: What does the recently issued general amnesty mean?
A: The general amnesty is just a lie from the regime. It is trying to restore trust again and it will not succeed: it is issuing an amnesty with one hand and shelling civilians with the other. The regime wants to show the West it is compassionate.
Q: Why did it choose a general amnesty?
A: The Syrian army is comprised of mostly soldiers from the Sunni sect, but after a larger number of them were killed and many defected, the Army started relying on soldiers from the Alawite sect. After many Alawite died, there was unrest in the Alawite community. The [regime] issued a law addressing Sunni soldiers who had defected, hoping to get Sunnis back onto the battlefield, to lessen the deaths in the Alawite community.
Q: Why did Assad choose right now to issue this amnesty?
A: He picked this time because he is currently benefiting from the division among opposition groups: their division over whether they recognize the [Syrian National] Coalition, and the conflict stemming from the approaching Geneva 2 conference.
Q: How does this help the regime?
A: The regime is playing all its cards, inside and outside Syria, in order to buy time to stay in power.
Soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army. Image courtesy of Syria News.
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