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by Alan Philps

Abdulkader al-Dhon, 27, was a student when the Syrian uprising started. For the past two years he has travelled the country to help reporters and human rights groups make sense of the crisis

I am from Deraa, but when the demonstrations began in April 2011, I was at university in Latakia. I came home on the second day. They were calling for the release of children arrested for writing graffiti on walls. When the people refused to stop the demonstrations, the government brought in the army. I was at home and at 3am, they cut off electricity and communications and brought in tanks. I have a Jordanian SIM card. I texted a friend in Amman: 'We are stuck here and the army has surrounded us.' He gave my number to the BBC in Amman, and from then on I have worked with journalists.

A year ago, everyone was saying, 'President Assad will be gone in three months'. What happened?

It was the same inside Syria. People said, it would be over in three months. They were convinced there would be movement from outside. Now they are saying, 'We need a no-fly zone'. The air attacks are the problem right now. In Ar-Raqqah, a liberated city 150km east of Aleppo, the government is using a lot of air power. Without a no-fly zone, they can't establish any kind of government. No one can do anything. In Aleppo province before the uprising, there were 5,000 doctors. Right now, there are just 50.

What happened to the doctors?

They are afraid to work with the rebels since the government arrested and tortured a lot of doctors. They left to go to Turkey, or simply went to the government side.

What state is the army in?

I was with the Free Syrian Army when five soldiers defected from the government side. This is what the officers tell the soldiers: 'Every day we are gaining more territory and killing a lot of terrorists. If you stay with us, you will get a government job. Just stick with us.' The soldiers are told that all the fighters are terrorists from outside Syria and this is a conspiracy against their country. But when they came to the rebel side they discovered that these people are Syrians and they are fighting for what they believe in.

So the Syrian army is still capable of fighting?

Right now, they still have that capability. Around Aleppo a lot of military bases are surrounded by the FSA. But the army is fighting back. It's important to remember that most of the north of Syria is liberated. We drove from Turkey to Deir ez-Zor, almost at the border with Iraq. There is no government there at all.

There is a lot of concern about the Al-Qaeda-aligned rebels, the al-Nusra Front. Who are they?

They are not so many in number, but they plan very well. They know how to launch a successful attack. This is the main difference between them and the Free Syrian Army.

The FSA are just normal Syrians. And there is another difference. If some guys from a village capture a military base, they take everything they can lay their hands on. But the al-Nusra people are honest.

Why do people join them?

If there is no help coming from outside, you will see guys joining the Islamist rebels. They are not all radicals by conviction. I met a male nurse in the hospital in Aleppo. He told us, 'I used to be a barman. But so long as Bashar uses scud missiles and MiGs and helicopters against us, we have to be like this.'

Is it too late for a political solution?

No. The Americans have to put pressure on Russia so they stop sending ammunition to Bashar. The Syrians need their country back. Bashar should go.

Can Syrians to live together after two years of fighting and 70,000 dead?

Maybe there will be revenge in a couple of villages. But it's not the culture of people to do that. Even today, after all that has happened, the people know that the government will have to include Sunnis and Alawites and Christians. There are a lot of good examples. For example, the bishops and the clerics in Hama mediated between the Sunnis and Alawites, to let the high school students take their exams. If we follow these examples, the country will be OK. The question is, how much longer will this go on? If this keeps on like this, I think the culture of revenge may start. They have to hurry.

Look at the lessons of Iraq. Once you lose power you're defenceless. Isn't that a bad example?

But in Iraq there was an invasion. The Americans removed the dictator, it wasn't the Iraqis doing it. Everyone was sitting around thinking, 'what comes next? Maybe I can be the new Saddam?' In Syria it is different, this is a movement from inside. The change comes from the people.


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Article: Copyright © 2013, Tribune Media Services.

"A Grass-Roots View of the Syrian Uprising "




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