Syrian Soldier Defies Order To Shoot Peaceful Protesters

By Amnesty International researcher Cilina Nasser in Wadi Khaled, northern Lebanon

Syrian army troops pull out of the southern protest hub of Daraa after a military lockdown of more than a week during which dozens of people were killed (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

He is a 21-year-old soldier and illiterate. But this young man does not need to read and write to know that shooting at unarmed protesters by government forces is wrong.

He was ordered to shoot, refused to do so, and in late April joined protesters calling for the fall of the Syrian regime in Damascus. With the help of protesters he then returned to Tell Kalakh, his hometown near Syria’s border with Lebanon, and then became one of some 4,000 Syrians from that area who were forced to flee from their homes in mid-May and to seek refuge in northern Lebanon.

He spoke to me on condition that I do not reveal his name because of his fear about possible reprisals against his relatives who are still in Syria.

The soldier was formerly based at a military compound in the city of Homs. In late April, his battalion was moved to Damascus to help quell the mass protests then taking place in support of demands for reform. He and around 600 soldiers in his battalion were each given a Kalashnikov rifle with seven 30-round magazines, a pistol and a tear gas mask to be used if and when the riot police fired tear gas at the protesters. They were taken to al-Ma’dhamiya in Damascus on a Thursday afternoon in preparation for a demonstration next day after people had gathered for Friday prayers. The soldiers were told that the riot police would deal with the demonstration.

That night, however, the soldiers’ commander called them together and told them he had received an order that they should shoot protesters.

“He talked about the protesters as if they were after us, that they would attack us and take our weapons… and that they were armed. He also said that if people did not protest on Friday, then we should just leave them alone… I and other soldiers secretly agreed to refuse to shoot at our people.”

I asked the soldier what instructions his commander had given and whether, for example, he had instructed his men to fire warning shots into the air.  He said no.  He and the other members of his unit were told simply that they had “an order to shoot.”

The next day, while people were attending Friday prayers the soldiers, in groups of 10 to 15 led by their sergeants, took up positions at the corners of streets near and around mosque exits.

When people came out of the mosque, the soldier said, they started chanting: “The people want the fall of the regime” but also called out “silmiye, silmiye,” an Arabic word meaning “peaceful” to stress the non-violent nature of their demonstration.

The soldier said he was standing at a street corner with nine other members of his unit and they watched the protesters who began a peaceful march along the street. He told me that none of the demonstrators were carrying weapons as far as he could see, yet he and the other soldiers were ordered to open fire on them.

“The officer gave us the order to shoot when the protesters were around 15 or 20 meters away from us… but we – in all, five of us soldiers – immediately said we would not shoot and said to the other soldiers present: ‘How can you shoot at these people? We will not do that.’”

Some 4,000 Syrians, including army deserters, have fled across the border into Lebanon © Dalal Mawad/Demotix

At this point, the soldier told me, the officer in charge of his unit ordered: “Shoot at them”, pointing to those who refused to fire at the protesters, leading to a stand off between the two groups of soldiers.

“They cocked their rifles and so did we… but neither of us pulled the trigger. We then started pushing each other and scuffled a bit… Then the officer fell on the ground. We immediately ran in the direction of the demonstration and held our rifles up in the air so that protesters would know that we weren’t going to shoot at them. When we were close enough so that they could hear us, we shouted to them saying ‘We are not going to shoot you. We are with you.’

Minutes later, however, the shooting began as other government security forces opened fire on the demonstrators. The soldier said he witnessed several people fall as they were shot, who then were carried away from the scene by other protesters. As he continued marching with the protesters, he saw other soldiers leaving the ranks and joining in support of the demonstration, despite the risks that they could face for disobeying orders and deserting the ranks.

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14 thoughts on “Syrian Soldier Defies Order To Shoot Peaceful Protesters

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! Refuse and dissent! Topple the regime! The Syrian regime is nothing without the support of its military.

  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! Refuse and dissent! Topple the regime! The Syrian regime is nothing without the support of its military.

  3. The Syrian regime depends fully on military support. When the military refuses to obey orders of their commanders, the regime is nothing. It's a simple mathematical equation. It would be wonderful if all syrian soldiers would turn against their commanders;

    They would have a(n) (r)evolution!

  4. The Syrian regime depends fully on military support. When the military refuses to obey orders of their commanders, the regime is nothing. It’s a simple mathematical equation. It would be wonderful if all syrian soldiers would turn against their commanders;

    They would have a(n) (r)evolution!

  5. I've heard, read, and seen videos of incidents such as the one in this story. These are the brave men that will help and accelerate the toppling of this brutal regime. Many thanks to those honorable soldiers.

  6. I’ve heard, read, and seen videos of incidents such as the one in this story. These are the brave men that will help and accelerate the toppling of this brutal regime. Many thanks to those honorable soldiers.

  7. Struggle is good … but watch who is helping you in your struggle.

    Syria's struggling for democracy.

    But the unrest, as often happens, is ALSO being used by Saudi Arabia & its man, Abdul Halim Khaddam, as well as Rifaat al – Assad, for their own interests.

    These interests have nothing to do with Syria's democracy … they are aimed only at destabilizing Syria.

    Change in Syria ….. to benefit whom ? The people, or new power grabbers ? That's the question.

    If you want the army's sympathy, the army should not be attacked …. as happened in Banyas recently, in an ambush that killed soldiers.

    Such attacks have nothing to do with the Syrian people's struggle for full rights .

    Don't let your struggle be hijacked by others.

    Want a democracy ?

    Then organize from the grassroots.

    Organize the people.

  8. Struggle is good … but watch who is helping you in your struggle.

    Syria’s struggling for democracy.

    But the unrest, as often happens, is ALSO being used by Saudi Arabia & its man, Abdul Halim Khaddam, as well as Rifaat al – Assad, for their own interests.

    These interests have nothing to do with Syria’s democracy … they are aimed only at destabilizing Syria.

    Change in Syria ….. to benefit whom ? The people, or new power grabbers ? That’s the question.

    If you want the army’s sympathy, the army should not be attacked …. as happened in Banyas recently, in an ambush that killed soldiers.

    Such attacks have nothing to do with the Syrian people’s struggle for full rights .

    Don’t let your struggle be hijacked by others.

    Want a democracy ?

    Then organize from the grassroots.

    Organize the people.

  9. Hi my name is Saud and I want you guys to know at Amnesty International that I am being tortured by the Syrian government as we speak. I've been harassed by their equivelent to the American CIA and tortured mentally and phyisically by there cowardly agents with their Iranian axis of evil or who knows Russian technology for the past nine years. I'm finally speaking up because the persecution is getting unbearable guys and I'm fearing for my life even the life of my family. I live with my mom and sister in Mclean, Virginia and I have done nothing wrong to the Syrians, I don't know why I'm being harrassed on a daily basis. So I just want the world to know what I'm going through, I'm not crazy or anything and there's no need to curse guys and I know Amnesty International is a reputable human rights organization so please help me if you can. My e-mail is penguin2002s7@yahoo.com and my full name is Saud Mouneimneh. I was born in Washington D.C. and I hold a Lebanese passport also. Thank you, Saud

  10. This soldier is one of brave men in our Army in Syria.
    the Syrian army divided in two parts,one belong to Maher Assad brother of Bashar Assad and those the killers of Syrian peoples whome protest to freedom and the other part of Syrian Army have no guns and no power????some of this part are brave soldiers.

  11. Hi my name is Saud and I want you guys to know at Amnesty International that I am being tortured by the Syrian government as we speak. I’ve been harassed by their equivelent to the American CIA and tortured mentally and phyisically by there cowardly agents with their Iranian axis of evil or who knows Russian technology for the past nine years. I’m finally speaking up because the persecution is getting unbearable guys and I’m fearing for my life even the life of my family. I live with my mom and sister in Mclean, Virginia and I have done nothing wrong to the Syrians, I don’t know why I’m being harrassed on a daily basis. So I just want the world to know what I’m going through, I’m not crazy or anything and there’s no need to curse guys and I know Amnesty International is a reputable human rights organization so please help me if you can. My e-mail is penguin2002s7@yahoo.com and my full name is Saud Mouneimneh. I was born in Washington D.C. and I hold a Lebanese passport also. Thank you, Saud

  12. This soldier is one of brave men in our Army in Syria.
    the Syrian army divided in two parts,one belong to Maher Assad brother of Bashar Assad and those the killers of Syrian peoples whome protest to freedom and the other part of Syrian Army have no guns and no power????some of this part are brave soldiers.