A unit in Idlib Province of the insurgent Free Syrian Army issues a statement, 14 February 2012
Unnamed staff of the Los Angeles Times report from Idlib Province in northwest Syria:
The rebels sleep on thin mattresses with AK-47s and handguns by their sides. Their rented apartment has the feel of college dorm meets military barracks — crumpled cigarette packs, old coffee cups, gun magazines and an incongruously feminine touch: plastic sunflowers rimming the doorways.
With cellphone coverage blocked by the government, they spend their days meeting at safe houses like this one to strategize. Before the topic of war comes a crucial question. How do you take your coffee?
Here in Syria's Idlib province, a key opposition region in the almost year-long uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad, matters of revolution must wait for Arab hospitality.
"So that if we die as martyrs, we die with a full stomach," rebel Mustafa Saeed said as he waited for lunch to be served.
Despite the urgency of their armed resistance and the rising death toll across the country, rebels here aren't rushing into battle against an army with far superior weapons and organization. Rather, they bide their time, staging guerrilla attacks and planning for the insurgency they want to fight, not the one they are equipped for now.
Rebels hope they'll soon see an influx of cash for weapons from the wealthy Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both now openly dedicated to Assad's overthrow. At a recent international summit, the Saudi foreign minister said arming the rebels was an "excellent idea."
But for now the resistance remains in a nascent stage, and even the name Free Syrian Army belies the reality of loosely organized militias consisting mostly of local fighters, who know the region's complex terrain, and some defecting soldiers, who have the military know-how.
They have little capability for open clashes with the army or security forces, and much of their offensive tactics consist of attacking checkpoints or military transport vehicles to take weapons and hostages, as well as to undermine the government's hold on the country.
Even "liberated" areas can slip away if the military decides to move in with a few tanks. Commanders acknowledge the inability to hold any place for more than a day or two once the military returns in strength.
Rebels who are armed — many are still not — almost universally carry AK-47 assault rifles, most bought on the black market or seized from the military. A few have rocket-propelled grenades. But the paucity of heavy munitions, antitank and antiaircraft weaponry in particular, is their great lament.
"There isn't enough ammunition," said Ahmad Zidan, nom de guerre of one of the Idlib leaders on the Supreme Council for the Leadership of the Syrian Revolution. "If we had the ammunition it would be over quickly."
One bald man in a traditional robe said, "If we don't get weapons and money, then pssh ..." He brushed his hands together to indicate they would be finished.
Rebels here envision this region as their country's Benghazi, the eastern Libyan breakaway enclave shielded by a Western-enforced no-fly zone that served as a political and strategic capital for insurgents fighting Moammar Kadafi.
"We want to base here and then move our forces forward, rather than have each area fighting on its own," said Zidan, 37, a father of four who worked as a general contractor for years in Kuwait. "He who wants to defect, flee to here; he who wants to fight, come here."
Idlib is ideally positioned to become Syria's Benghazi. As in the Libyan city, the revolution has tapped into deep resentment of an impoverished region that residents say has been snubbed by the government for decades. The rocky, mountainous terrain lends itself well to hit-and-run operations, and its proximity to rebel-friendly Turkey, from which there are long-established smuggling routes, offers the potential for foreign powers supplying the rebels.
As the rebels wait for an infusion of aid, weapons trickle in from all directions, including Turkey and Lebanon.