The 'Syrian Free Army,' a group of up to 15,000 defected Syrian soldiers camped in Turkey, is seeking to be recognized as the opposition's military wing.
As the Syrian military continues to kill protesters despite Damascus's agreement two days ago to withdraw its forces from the streets, a small army of Turkey-backed defectors is seeking international assistance to protect civilians in Syria.
The 'Syrian Free Army' (SFA), a band of between 5 and 15 thousand Syrian military defectors camped in eastern Turkey and under Turkish protection, aims to become the military wing of the opposition Syrian National Council. "We are the future army of the new Syria. We are not in league with any particular sect, religion, or political party. We believe in protecting all elements of Syrian society," Col. Riad al-Assad, the SFA's leader, told the Daily Telegraph. Colonel Assad also called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone and a naval blockade to aid the SFA in protecting Syrians from Damascus's forces.
"We don't have the ability to buy weapons, but we need to protect civilians inside Syria," he said. "We want to make a 'safe zone' in the north of Syria, a buffer zone in which the SFA can get organised." With a small weapons supply, his movement is not yet in a position to pose a serious threat to the regime, but its presence marks a definitive change to the original unified opposition policy of peaceful protest.
He told Reuters last month that he believes war is the only way to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the violence against civilians.