In Syria, siege is test for new rebel order

Thu Nov 8, 2012 2:46pm EST
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By Erika Solomon

HAREM, Syria (Reuters) - Crouching in a tent among the pine trees, two rain-soaked men trace a map in the dirt. A cigarette stub, a rock and a tuna can mark targets amid a scatter of X-marks and arrows.

They might almost be football coaches making a gameplan, but in Syria these men are making war.

Fighters run in from the deluge, yelling for ammunition and transport for the wounded. Thunder rumbles in the distance and blends into bursts of mortar fire.

Shouting over the din, the two commanders debate tactics for taking the town of Harem, which their rebel forces have under siege. How they fare has big implications, not just because the ancient strongpoint on the Turkish border dominates a strategic route to Aleppo, but as a test of opposition efforts to better marshal their untrained and fractious bands of volunteers.

"Basel, listen!" shouted Abu Osama, one of the two leaders at the rain-sodden command post, to fellow rebel commander, Basel Eissa, as they hammer out a coordinated plan for their brigades. "This revolution has been disorganized and random for over a year now. It's time to start focusing our strategies.

"All I hear from the fighters is 'Storm the city! Storm the city!' - before we've secured any territory. I'm sick of this slogan. Hold them back until our units have bombed the targets."

That was nearly two weeks ago, when a Reuters news team began observing the siege of Harem, which began in mid-October. This week, troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are holding out in the mediaeval citadel after the rebels drove them from the rest of the town, fighting house to house, street by street.

Sniper fire and air strikes continue to take a toll on the 500 or so besieging rebels who, in reply, offered little quarter to some prisoners - one of whom Reuters saw them shoot dead.   Continued...

Members of the Free Syrian Army run to avoid a sniper during clashes with pro-government forces in Harem town, Idlib Governorate in this October 30, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih/Files