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Syrian activists to rebels: Give us our revolution back

Many of the activists who began the uprising in Syria more than a year ago feel their peaceful push for change has been hijacked by the rebel Free Syrian Army. They're meeting in Cairo today.

By Gert van LangendonckCorrespondent, Sarah LynchCorrespondent / April 16, 2012

In this March 27 citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, black smoke rises from buildings in Homs, Syria.

Local Coordination Committees in Syria/AP

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Beirut, Lebanon; and Cairo

Syrian activist Mohamed Alloush has fled his native country for Lebanon, but it wasn't President Bashar al-Assad's regime that drove him away. It was the rebels of the Free Syrian Army who ran him out of his hometown of Homs.

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"In September last year I had been arrested again by the regime for organizing protests," says Mr. Alloush, speaking on a cafe terrace in Beirut. "After they released me, I ran into a group of men I knew as members of the Free Syrian Army. I walked up to them and screamed: "You guys have stolen our revolution! You are just as bad as the shabiha," the pro-regime militia in Syria.

The rebels kept Alloush for four days, after which they told him not to show his face in Homs again.

Alloush is part of the movement of young revolutionaries who began the protests against the Assad regime in March last year in the wake of similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They feel sidelined by the violent turn the conflict in Syria has taken since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed last summer. An armed group comprised mainly of former Army soldiers who defected from the regime, it is also reportedly cooperating with Sunni jihadis from abroad and many brigades have adopted an increasingly sectarian tone.

“Our revolution has been stolen from us by people who have their own agenda,” says a singer who uses the pseudonym ‘Safinas’ because she still lives in Damascus. “We are not violent people. We want to get back to the real thing. It was a clean thing when it started, but it has become something else now. I am against the regime, but I am also against the armed rebels.”

More than 200 peaceful Syrian activists are gathered in Cairo until tomorrow for a conference aimed at uniting revolutionaries around one common goal: returning to the nonviolent protests of last summer. While they acknowledge that the FSA has built up significant momentum, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar calling for the international community to arm the rebels, they see an opportunity for the momentum to swing back to the nonviolent activists if the United Nations cease-fire brokered by Kofi Annan holds.

“Mr. Annan’s plan is our main hope at this point and we are trying to have everybody abide by it,” says Haytham Khoury, a member of the Syrian Democratic Platform, attending Cairo’s conference. “We are contacting other opposition groups, trying to give hope to the people through media” to convey that “this is a very good step toward saving lives and regaining a completely peaceful revolution.”

The Syrian regime suspended military action beginning April 12, but reports of renewed shelling today underscore the fragility of the cease-fire, which is aimed at ending the violence that has killed more than 9,000 since the uprising broke out. With the international community struggling to gain leverage over the regime's brutal crackdown, some Syrians see the FSA as their only option for freedom.

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