'We are not afraid of Assad any longer. But why must more people die?'


The bodies were in a field, dumped during the night. They were men who had been arrested and taken away for interrogation after the forces of the Syrian regime began a vicious and vengeful sweep through this region.

The families in the village of Kurin have not been able to collect and bury their dead because they would be walking into a trap; any approach so far, they say, has been met with sniper fire. A force of rebel fighters who went to carry out the task twice had to retreat under fire from mortars.

Their commander, Abdul Haq, spread his hands in apology. "If we went any further there would be more killed, more for us to try and bring back. We feel we are failing our people, but we cannot match the weapons of the enemy."

Yesterday, as the savage strife continued, the Friends of Syria – America, Western Europe and the Arab countries – meeting in Tunis issued yet another ultimatum to Bashar al-Assad and announced that the opposition group, the Syrian National Council, would be recognised as the legitimate government by a number of states, including the UK.

None of this brings much relief in these killing grounds. The estimate of fatalities varies: according to the United Nations it is around 5,400, while activists say it is around 7,300. But it is a figure rising daily and, to those who have borne the losses, it seems little is being done to stop the murderous campaign.

Nor is there much enthusiasm for the Syrian National Council. Few in the rural areas have heard of it and many among those who have, including rebel fighters, view them as preaching revolution from a comfortable exile.

Here in Idlib province, in north-western Syria, The Independent found the reality is of troops and armour backed by the Alawite militia, the Shabiha, systematically going through the area, killing more people in the last four days than have fallen victim even in the terrible bombardment of Homs.

Almost every village and township has tales of being visited by organised violence. On the day that the eight bodies were found at Kurin, activists were being held at Azmarin, Idita, Iblin and Bashon, on occasions after being identified by informers.

Six were arrested at Darkush, including a 13-year-old boy and a schoolteacher. There "they had a list, they knew the ones they wanted" said Issa Mohammed, 22. "No one could go to help them because there were so many roadblocks. If anyone said anything they would be captured as well."

One needs to be cautious of these accounts in such a bloody conflict in which hurt and anger, as well as political expediency, can lead to embellished tales.

But here residents would come forward with names of those killed and detained, albeit with requests that the names of those still thought to be alive should not be made public because this may expedite their deaths and put relations and friends in harm's way.

Abd Jibilawe, from al-Janoudiyah, described how three friends have lost their lives so far, before adding quietly "and there was Ahmed Jibilawe who was my cousin and my best friend".

At a hamlet near Darkush, Hasina Um Samin was mourning her brother, Abu Khalid. "We are just poor people, we have not done anything bad," she said, huddled under a thin blanket at her home, unheated because of a lack of fuel. "Still they came and took him. We thought it must be a mistake, but we don't know where he is. We fear will not see him again."

There is little defence in Idlib against a state which is clearly waging a war on its own people. The revolutionaries here are mainly local men, with courage but no military training and woefully short of anything like adequate arms and ammunition. Witnessing their plight, one had wry memories of rebels in Libya firing thousands of rounds into the air, often in celebration of imaginary victories.

The Libyan revolution was, of course, facilitated by months of Nato bombing. The constant question here is why no military action has followed grandiose statements by the West. For the time being, however, the rebels would be grateful for supplies which would go some way towards enabling them to take on the regime.

Commander Haq, a 34-year-old mechanic, has around 50 fighters under his command, but not even one semi-automatic rifle between them. Instead they pass around 20 hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns and one set of body armour brought over by a soldier who defected.

As we sat at his base, a farm building in the hills above Darkush, pinned down by a burst of machine-gun fire flying overhead, he opened a rucksack containing cartridges. "This is what I've been sent. Perhaps the Syrian National Council can send us some proper guns and ammunition from all the international money they are getting. Look at these, how old they are. Some of these are rusting. Some of these are not even the right type for the guns we have."

At this point a Remington pump-action shotgun one of his men was using simply fell apart, possibly due to metal fatigue. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the men were keen to show other examples of their antiquated armoury – a Soviet Star pistol proudly bearing the place of manufacture, CCCP, and the date, 1948. Britain, too had provided a little help for the Syrian revolution – a Webley revolver, circa the 1930s.

Later in the afternoon, during a break in the shooting, another commander, Abu Staif, came in proudly bearing the favoured tool of revolutionaries the world over, a Kalashnikov AK-47.

This one, the first for the group, was a regime-issue weapon. It had not been captured but bought from a member of the Shabiha. "It cost us $2,000 – even then we had to wait for almost two months," said Commander Staif. "The man who sold it to us stole it from another person from the Shabiha so the registration would not get back to him if Bashar's people capture it back.

"The Shabiha and the army are both corrupt, just like the rotten regime they serve. The soldiers are more corrupt. One officer offered to sell us his entire checkpoint with tanks, but he wanted more money than we could ever have. The Shabiha are more difficult because they are Alawites and they hate us."

The price of a Kalashnikov of similar vintage would probably be around $300 in places like Afghanistan. The Syrian rebels insist paying so much is not an illustration of being flush with Qatari or Saudi largesse, but rather of having to turn to wherever they can.

Most of their funding, they claimed, came from donations raised by local communities. This, however, has suffered a setback because one of their main fund-raisers had been killed that morning at Jisr al-Shughour.

"They used an agent. He was sent to find out who were the organisers, and they came and shot him in front of his family," said Izzedin Hihano, a revolutionary from the town.

"For years, the Assads controlled us by fear. We are not afraid any longer. People would rather die than go back to that. But why must that happen? Why must more die? We need help quickly – we are desperate."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Reports Developer / Application Support Engineer

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Ashdown Group: BI/ SSRS Developer

£40000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An experienced BI/ ...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Sales Executive

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A highly successful e-commerce ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced marketeer is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas