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Opinion

Free Syrian Army commander: 'I'll name my son Juppé if West intervenes'

French foreign minister Alain Juppé has called for humanitarian intervention in Syria, but world leaders hesitate. As the price of inaction rises, they need a clear strategy for hastening change. My experience with a Free Syrian Army commander shows that the rebel force will play a crucial role.

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His body was returned with fingers cut off and several bullets lodged in his lifeless chest. As the grieving father shared his harrowing story, his wife nursed an anemic infant, born prematurely during their escape.

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Contrary to regime allegations, foreign support for the Free Syrian Army remains scant. The growing numbers of defectors depend on whatever they can seize from government Army barracks. Those I saw carry only their Army issued automatic rifles and bullet cases to sustain them through battle.

Libyan military leaders, who recently toppled Qaddafi with NATO support, are reportedly alone in offering the rebels some assistance.

Western, Turkish, and Arab leaders have legitimate concerns about supporting the Free Syrian Army. Those include avoiding direct military confrontation with a Syrian regime that holds large stockpiles of chemical weapons, hundreds of ballistic missiles, and continues a track record of resorting to political violence.

But as Syria slides into a regime-instigated civil war, one that could spill over to neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, the price of foreign inaction is rising. Furthermore, with growing regime violence and counter violence, keeping the Syrian uprising peaceful is no longer an option.

The international community needs a clear strategy for hastening the pace of change in Syria, and the Free Syrian Army is now an undeniable and crucial part of that equation.

For commander Al Arabi, an internationally enforced no-fly zone or a humanitarian corridor along the Turkish-Syrian border are his primary demands. In his mind such a scenario will give cover to thousands of demoralized soldiers inside Syria who are still unable to defect. It would also provide civilians with a greater degree of protection and, by hastening the regime’s departure, stop Syria’s slide into civil strife.

Despite the unspeakable hardship, rebels and refugees alike are confident that the 40-plus years of Assad rule are coming to a close. “It is only a matter of time,” they optimistically insist. But the question is, at what cost?

When commander Al Arabi got up to leave, he picked up his Kalashnikov and made me a promise. “If they [the West] come to help, I will name my son Juppé,” after the outspoken French foreign minister who has led calls for a humanitarian intervention. He then disappeared into the dark cold hills from which he came. His plan was to be across the border in Homs the next morning.

Firas Maksad is a Washington-based analyst on the Middle East and a political consultant with a leading US law firm.

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