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Young protest leader sees civil war emerging in Syria

A Syrian schoolteacher who has become a protest leader in the town of Tel Kalakh, near the Lebanon border, tells the Monitor in a rare interview that he expects civil war in Syria.

By Correspondent / May 10, 2011

Syrian families cross the border into the northern town of Bukayaa, Lebanon, on April 29, as they flee the violence in the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh.

Bilal Hussein/AP

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Arida, Lebanese-Syrian border

A narrow causeway of basalt boulders and steel oil drums stretching across the Kabir River on the Lebanese-Syrian border has become a lifeline for Syrians fleeing a crackdown in the nearby town of Tel Kalakh.

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Among those crossing the river on Monday was a young schoolteacher who in recent weeks has emerged as the leader of the protest movement in the mainly Sunni-populated town, which lies just two miles north of the border.

He and other residents struck mixed tones of fear and defiance as the Syrian authorities continued a punishing nationwide campaign of arrests and shootings against key centers of unrest to suppress a two-month uprising that threatens to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Calling himself Nisr min Tel Kalakh (the Eagle of Tel Kalakh), the young opposition leader, who could not be named for security reasons, says that he hopes the uprising remains peaceful. But he predicts that the intensifying crackdown by the Syrian security forces will plunge the country into an armed civil war.

“We are all expecting for Syria exactly what happened in Libya – a revolution against the regime, an armed struggle against the regime. It will happen soon,” he says, in perhaps the first interview of an underground opposition leader based inside Syria with a Western reporter. Until then, he adds, the protesters are willing to die for their cause.

“We will defend ourselves by baring our chests to their bullets and fighting with our bare hands. Our cause is righteous. Even if we lose 2 or 3 million people, we are willing to put up with that high price to get what we want,” he says.

Escape route

Dozens of residents of Tel Kalakh have used the narrow causeway in the past two weeks to enter Lebanon, where they have sought shelter with relatives and friends. Some spend just the day in Lebanon before making the short journey back to their homes in the evening. One resident telephoned "Nisr," the young leader, inside Tel Kalakh and he agreed to meet for an interview. Thirty minutes later, he appeared on the opposite bank of the Kabir River.

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After discreetly slipping some money into the hands of two unarmed but uniformed Syrian border soldiers on watch at the crossing, he scrambled down the steep bank and stepped gingerly across the causeway spanning the river to the Lebanese side.

A man standing on the Lebanese bank of the river hailed the two Syrian soldiers and jeered, “Why don’t you come over here and we’ll take your picture.”
One of the Syrian soldiers yelled curses before the pair disappeared from view.

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