Planet Syria © dona bozzi

Summer 2013. In the Aleppo countryside, the Al-Aqsa Brigade of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fires down below at the Hezbollah militiamen who have penetrated the villages of Nubbul and Zahara.

Of all the FSA commanders we met, Yaser Sokar, chief of the Al-Aqsa Brigade, an unprejudiced, soft-spoken man, is the only one who dared to shake our hands, wiping his own afterwards as a joke. The villages of Nubbul and Al-Zahra have been penetrated by Hezbollah; can Hezbollah penetrate Aleppo, we ask him. “No, never.” He gives us the OK to go to Jabbal Shewehna, a front line at the bottom of a hill a few kilometres from Hraytan. Al Aqsa Brigade fighters stand on one side of the hill, and the regime’ troops stand on the other. “If we take this hill top, we take all of Aleppo,” says one Al-Aqsa fighter. The fighters complain about the enemy’s superiority given its use of the Shilka, a tank with a sniper capable of shooting 2400 bullets per minute.


The  men with guns have received a few Concourse missiles, but still lament the weapon of the poor,  and foolishly  keep dreaming on their victory over evil. They particularly badly need RPG-type of rocket that can better track and follow enemy targets, primarily the Russian  made T-72 tank.

The FSA base, a huge barrack behind of a two-kilometre long wall used for sniping, is manned by about 400 men, or so the regime thinks, says a young fighter, laughing.
The jewel in the brigade’s otherwise monotone weaponry is a “Dushka” machine gun, pilfered from the regime and fitted with a 14.5 mm cartridge that can release 300 bullets per minute.

In Benghazi 2011,  Freedom Square, a maniple of free Syrians  started  waving their flags,  and the intoxicating spring must have rubbed off on them, but the two revolutions had  a chasm built in their hard drive:  these principled rogue bandits on the margin have a way of life influenced by the Sunnah, interlaced and tinged with a European something: unlike the Misrata rebels, they don’t wear flip flops on the front line, but proper boots, and are organically conscious: they used  to make the best virgin olive oil out of this Mediterranean Greenland.


Commander Yaser Socar’s dinner invitation had an hidden agenda; it was a  cry for help. The comfortably furnished rooms of his house exuded culture and open mindedness, and moderate wealth. Too unpretentious to present us with an exclusively Syrian meal, he added a European-type of course to the dinner to make us feel more comfortable. Then he exclaimed,  painfully:

“We are the real Muslims of Syria. Do we look like terrorists to you? They killed our children, they burned our houses. Did they call them terrorists? We are the ones they called terrorists! The true terrorists were released  by the regime in 2011 from Saidnaya prison, under pressure from the international community in the first few months of the uprising, as part of an amnesty.

Our battalion, the Al Aqsa Brigade, didn’t get all the media attention that Al-Tawheed did, and therefore didn’t get the needed military supplies from Qatar that they did. We didn’t even get enough bullets from the military council of the FSA, let alone foreign powers.

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He said he would take us the following day to Nubbul and Al-Zahra, two Shia villages on the outskirts of Aleppo, with a combined population of about 5000, where Hezbollah reigns and even the women carry guns. Here, the Al-Aqsa men enjoy a formidable vantage point: the terrace of yet another elegant private mansion turned into an FSA headquarters. We were actually facing Nubbul and Al-Zahra from about three kilometres away. The rebel’s elevated position above the villages definitely gave them the upper hand. Suddenly, the men ducked in a row behind the terrace wall to exchange fire.One of Al-Aqsa figheters shouted “Allahu Akbar,” jumping with his Kalashnikov lifted in the air. It then became still. He had just killed a man. When asked why
Hezbollah couldn’t afford to retaliate the injury, they said that daylight doesn’t allow them to clash comfortably enough. On the terrace floor, lay a dozen or so Kalashnikov bullet casings.

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Zakaria Jrab, leader of the Katiba Shams Alhak (The Sun of Righteousness), is a member of the military commitee of the Council of the Governorate of Aleppo. I ask him:

“Mr. Jrab, what are the ideological differences between Ahrar Al-Sham and the FSA?  The way Ahrar members dress, in black from head to toe and wearing black kohl around their eyes, is not exactly reassuring”.

“There is no difference between the two: we are brothers, we coordinate with each other on the front line. However, Ahrar Al-Sham is more educated and more rigorous in the observance of the Sharia then is the FSA, where some elements may be lazy or just not care. We can definitely say they are Islamists, but we work together because they are not radical.”


“Does the FSA has more affinity with Ahrar Al-Sham than with Al- Golani?” Ahrar Al-Sham is easier to deal with, more open minded and doesn’t have an agenda. Mr. Golani wants to take over the country after the revolution.”  “Why can’t you get good antiaircraft from the United States, like Turkey did?   “Because the United States has a precondition: they want to give Idlib and Aleppo to their ally, Turkey.” ” What about Qatar? Why they don’t help you more?”

“Because they don’t have the OK by the United States. Recently a shipment of RPG made in Austria,  from the UAE to Syria, was stopped by the United States. The regime has Shilkas with snipers capable of shooting 2400 bullets per minute. We have 45 mm “Dushka”  machine guns at 300 bullets per minute”
And a sleek, albeit quite lonely, M16. From the United States; and MRE, meals ready to eat.




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