Rebels of the southern suburbs of Damascus are still mired in surprise after 56 fighters of al-Anfal Brigade surrendered to regime forces in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp two weeks ago.
In an exclusive interview with the brigade’s commander, Abu Mazen al-Rifai, Zaman al-Wasl tries to uncover the reason behind the collective defection.
Abu Mazen claims hunger and hopelessness were key to his decision. The commander said, “On March 7, we planned to escape in batches after monitoring the activities of the Free Syrian Army’s guards on Thalathin Road, near Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp."
"We crossed the road to the regime’s side – carrying full arms – where we were warmly welcomed by the Syrian forces," Abu Mazen said.
The fighters were then taken by bus to a school in Husseiniyeh neighborhood, he added.
Sources mentioned that al-Anfal’s fighters were divided into two groups – one stayed in Husseiniyeh, while the other group was sent to Nisrin Road in Tadamon, near Yarmouk camp.
An FSA source suspects the regime wishes to use the experience of al-Anfal fighters in the area, as well as their knowledge of FSA bases.
Abu Mazen revealed that almost 115 fighters had so far left the Free Syrian Army to join the Syrian regime forces. It is expected these fighters will form the National Defence Forces (NDF) in Husseiniyeh and Thiyabiyeh neighborhoods. Abu Mazen said the defectors were still in a school in Husseiniyeh with close supervision and guarding.
In regards to the reported execution of four al-Anfal fighters, sources denied the story, confirming the victims were not from al-Anfal Brigade, but were most likely fighters wanting to join the brigade after handing themselves over to regime. It is believed Abu Mazen requested the sectarian militias kill them, where they were slaughtered at Sayyeda Zainab Mosque.
Activists explained that the severe hunger and poverty fighters of the Free Syrian Army in Southern Damascus suffer from has played a significant role in pushing them to deny their beliefs and principles to survive.
Activists mentioned that many members of the Free Syrian Army are engaged in very hard jobs, with battalion leaders often working as peddlers to secure their family’s food.