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Syria's iPhone insurgency makes for smarter rebellion

The prevalence of smart phones and other technology has allowed Syria's rebels to undermine state media reports and rally supporters, in Syria and abroad, with evidence of regime atrocities.

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Making that happen has been no accident. Arriving at one makeshift rebel headquarters in a Salaheddin building with thick walls, rebel media activist Abu Mhio sits at a desk-turned-command center.

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Two laptop computers sit with lids up, importing and showing combat video. Scattered about are external hard drives, video and still cameras, mobile phones, and a tangle of cables – the tools of war and public persuasion that have become prominent in Syria like no other Arab Spring revolt.

Abu Mhio's first question to a visiting journalist is: "Do you have a thumb drive?"

As he downloads images and video onto the drive, Abu Mhio explains his homegrown effort – one that has been repeated by activists across the country since the uprising began in March 2011, with anti-regime street protests that evolved into armed opposition and now civil war.

"Everything here is from my house," says Abu Mhio. "This is my laptop. This is my camera. This is a printer from my friend. We have no help from outside."

While there may be little help, there is a lot of impact from such simple tools.

Abu Mhio scrolls through still images, as some rebel fighters gather round to look. There is a dumpster overflowing with garbage and plastered with posters of the president. "House of Assad," Abu Mhio says, as the gunmen laugh.

But then there is an image of a 10-year-old boy, killed just two days before by a government artillery shell that tore apart his leg. In another frame a man lies dead on a sidewalk, face down in a pool of blood, apparently shot by a pro-regime militiaman, says Abu Mhio.

As the slideshow continues, a medic brings in a small piece of shrapnel – flat, sharp and shaped like a fish hook – that was just extracted from someone in the next room.

Abu Mhio takes a look, then plucks from the desk next to his computer another piece of shrapnel the size of a marble, which was extracted from someone else. It is a reality given digital life on the screens.

There are videos of past protests, including one from June 22 in which Syrian security forces opened fire, killing several demonstrators. Another protest at night resembles the crowd at a soccer match, chanting loudly in unison and lighting flares.  

At one demonstration, a leaflet is held up to the camera that reads: "Warning: The Syrian [state] TV is the main cause of dissemination of discord between Syrians." 

Anti-regime media activists are trying to change that. Several rebels nod when Abu Mhio says, "When we will be free, [Syrian TV] will be dead." 

And their screen saver of choice? You can also find it on mobile phones across this rebel enclave. Inspired by the world of video games, it is black, with white words in capital letters they hope apply to the rule of Assad: "GAME OVER."

Scott Peterson left the Salaheddin district of Aleppo late on the afternoon of July 29 after three days in the enclave, when this story was reported. Follow him on Twitter.


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