Enclave Gives Syrian Rebels Governance (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By CHARLES LEVINSON AZZAZ, Syria 08/10/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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AZZAZ, Syria—Opposition fighters locked in battle for Syria´s largest
city, Aleppo, have a new resource: Rebels now control a swath of
territory to their north, including two border crossings with Turkey.
The opposition hopes its first substantial enclave of the 17-month
uprising, seized from the government in the past few weeks, will
transform a fight that for months has seen no clear victor. A similar
enclave allowed Libyan rebels to sustain their fight in Libya last
Already, the Syrian enclave has made it easier for rebels to bring
fighters, weapons, food, fuel and other logistic needs to Aleppo.
The battle for Syria´s commercial capital could be pivotal. A rebel
victory there would deal an unprecedented blow to President Bashar al-
Assad´s rule; regime dominance there could free Mr. Assad´s troops to
try to regain the north.
Thursday´s fighting in Aleppo brought the latest shift in the
unresolved battle: A government offensive drove rebel militias from
the southern neighborhood of Salaheddin, amid heavy army shelling of
several other neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city of 2.2
million, according to rebel fighters and residents.
Rebels, who had held Salaheddin for more than a week, gave
conflicting reports of whether they staged a strategic retreat or
were overrun by the ferocity of the government attack.
Mr. Assad´s security forces lost control of the sweep of countryside
north of Aleppo in late July, fleeing an offensive by rebel groups
from across the rural north. Since then, local village committees
that steered the uprising have shifted gears, transforming themselves
into interim village governments. Rebel checkpoints now dot the
winding single-lane roads between the region´s farming villages and
Except for a lone air base where loyalist soldiers are hunkered down
and mostly surrounded by rebel fighters, the countryside stretching
from Aleppo to the Turkish border about 30 miles away has been
cleared of government forces.
The Syrian border town of Azzaz, to Aleppo´s north, fell to rebel
fighters on July 21, and much of the rest of the countryside north of
Aleppo fell within days, rebels said. About a week ago, rebel
fighters-turned-bureaucrats took up posts at a pair of border
crossings with Turkey, one near Azzaz and the other west of Aleppo.
Crisply dressed rebels check passports of new arrivals, enter names
into computers and extend a welcome hand to "Free Syria."
Samir Haj Omar, an economist who now heads the local 30-member
political council in Azzaz, said Turkish officials have been more
willing to deal with him and other rebel leaders now that they are de
He has used that newfound heft to convince Turkey to allow cargo
trucks to cross the border. On Wednesday, the first new shipments of
rice, flour and gasoline arrived in rebel-controlled northern Syria,
according to local officials here.
Throughout the north, a region where many civilians had fled or
remained locked in their houses to avoid the regime´s crackdown on
protests, people now fill village streets. Shops have reopened in
recent days for the first time in four months. In the village of
Maraa, children flocked to a reopened public swimming pool to cool
off on Thursday. Abandoned Syrian Army tanks have been converted to
For fighters desperately trying to keep up supplies of food, fuel and
weapons, the ability to freely cross the Turkish border and move
between villages without fear of encountering regime forces is a
Earlier in the conflict, supplies were ferried across the Turkish
border by horse, or on foot, by smugglers traversing muddy trails
while dodging Turkish and Syrian border guards. A local fighter in
Azzaz who said he helped smuggle in local rebels´ first rocket
propelled grenades earlier this year said it took them weeks to
negotiate the treacherous route through regime-controlled territory
for just two RPGs.
Now, such supply shipments can make the run from the Turkish border
to the front line in Aleppo in about 90 minutes.
"In Damascus, it was difficult to get guns and supplies, but in
Aleppo, it is easy," said Ahmed Kaialy, a 24-year-old rebel who
fought in both cities.
He spoke from a makeshift clinic in Turkey on Tuesday, a day after
rocket shrapnel lodged in his eye while fighting in Aleppo´s
Salaheddin neighborhood. Before, it might have taken him as much as
two weeks to get smuggled out to Turkey or Lebanon for treatment, he
said. Now, open roads and control of the border mean he will be able
to return to battle within days.
Rebels also see their control of northern Syria as an opportunity to
show their countrymen and the international community what their
governance may look like if the Assad regime is toppled. New
governing structures are beginning to sprout. An Azzaz city council
has been established headed by a former schoolteacher. A rebel
brigade polices the streets. Sheik Yussuf al-Shahawi, the new, 25-
year-old imam at the local mosque, has taken charge of the civil
courts, conducting marriages, divorces and settling civil disputes.
A nascent criminal court system—run by local Muslim clerics in many
villages—has begun to operate, using Islamic law as the foundation
In a sign of the struggles Syria could face if Mr. Assad´s regime
falls, Mr. Shahawi said his early efforts have been focused on
stopping mistreatment of detained regime-loyalist fighters—and
convincing their captors to leave justice to the new courts—as well
as preventing revenge attacks against a nearby Shiite village that
supported the regime.
He said there have been numerous such incidents, but calls them
The last Syrian regime bastion in the rebels´ northern enclave is the
Mennigh Air Base, where loyalist forces continue to fight from inside
the base´s besieged walls. They toss regular volleys of artillery
fire at the nearby village of Tel Rifat. A regime war plane
occasionally ventures north from the war´s front line battle in
Aleppo and drops bombs on newly freed villages.
On Wednesday, two bombs were dropped on a rebel headquarters in an
abandoned elementary school in Tel Rifat leaving two craters in the
school courtyard, rebels said. A third bomb flattened a house and
killed the family inside. "We can breathe now, but the regime is
still here," said Yassin Dibo, a rebel fighter from Tel Rifat.
—Margaret Coker in Beirut contributed to this article. (Copyright ©
Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 08/10/12)
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