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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.

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Minutes later, sitting in a dusty armchair in a nearby garage and surrounded by local well-wishers, “Nisr” said he was the first to rally people in Tel Kalakh for antiregime protests and since then had become the leader of the opposition in the town.

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Using the Internet to organize

“I use the Internet to stay in contact with other activists around the country. It is difficult. Some of them I have not heard from in several days and I fear they are dead or arrested,” the tall, soft-spoken, and relaxed-looking schoolteacher says.

As an opposition leader in contact with other cells, he has been following closely the escalating crackdown in nearby Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, which lies just 25 miles to the east of Tel Kalakh. He said that eyewitnesses from Homs told him that during last Friday’s demonstrations, the protesters had prepared a feast for the soldiers deployed on the scene and were making an effort to win them over.

The soldiers refused to eat the food and ignored the friendly calls of the crowd. When the crowd rejected demands to disperse, more troop reinforcements arrived and opened fire. According to “Nisr,” witnesses reported some 300 people were gunned down.

“The security forces sent trash trucks to pick up the dead and take them away. Then they brought in water tankers to wash away the blood as if nothing had happened,” he says.

Such accounts are impossible to verify given the reporting restrictions imposed by the Syrian authorities. However, reports have emerged from travelers to Homs and from opposition activists that mass graves have been dug in the city.

One woman who arrived in Lebanon from Homs on Monday, who also cannot be identified for security reasons, said that bodies of people shot by security forces in the city were being mutilated and left in the street so that the authorities could blame “Salafists,” or Islamic extremists. But she added that claims by the Syrian authorities that armed groups are responsible for some of the deaths were not unfounded. She said cars full of unidentified men routinely open fire on civilians and security forces alike.

Will weapons soon flow to protesters?

Although the unrest in Syria has fueled a boom in black-market weapons sales in neighboring Lebanon, with many weapons crossing the border, most Syrians remain unarmed. "Nisr" admits the opposition has no arms to speak of presently, and says that it is only a matter of time before weapons provided by “friendly countries” begin to appear in Syria.

“We expect some countries that support our cause to deliver weapons to us,” he says.

"Nisr" says that the Syrian authorities are hunting for him, but he keeps moving from safe house to safe house. He says he is not afraid and that the risks he faces along with other opposition leaders inside Syria is the “price of freedom.”

He cites an Arabic proverb about the difficulty of opposing oppression.

“They say that an eye cannot fight a needle,” he says. “Only now, the regime is the eye and the people are the needle.”

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