February 16th, 2012
10:47 AM ET

Inside Syria: Farmers, teachers, carpenters armed with rifles fear massacre

Editor's note: CNN's Ivan Watson is reporting from northern Syria, where he is seeing rural communities opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. He describes these areas as free of a strong government presence but says residents are concerned the Syrian army could launch a military offensive in the countryside if it's victorious in the city of Homs.

Watson is one of a few reporters in Syria, where the government has been placing restrictions on international journalists and refusing many of them entry at all. Below is an edited account of what Watson and his team are seeing and hearing on the ground:

The countryside here in northern Syria is in open revolt, and this is rebellion of farmers, of carpenters and of high school teachers.

Entire communities, villages and stretches of towns across northern Syria tell us that they have not seen the presence of central Syrian government authority in months.

They have been effectively governing themselves, and they have clearly established militias as well as pockets of what's been called the Free Syrian Army defectors from the Syrian army who have joined these villages and rural communities in opposition to the Syrian government.

As we've traveled across this region, we've gone from village to village, from small council to small council, where young men and old, sit on the ground, chain-smoking, next to Kalashnikov assault rifles, weapons they say they've gotten within the last couple of months.

It does appear that villages and towns in northern Syria have been, basically, out of government control for months now, except when government forces have tried to conduct deadly incursions into these towns that are temporary at best.

Nearly everybody we talked to was able to show photos in their cell phones of neighbors, of relatives who have been killed in some of these incursions.

An additional point that is fascinating is that these communities are now experimenting in self-rule. They're providing their own services to their communities in many cases, hosting hundreds of defected Syrian soldiers who they identify as the Free Syrian Army.

From positions that we have been in, Syrian government forces have only been a few kilometers away, within line of sight actually. We've gotten one view of one of the largest cities in the region, the city of Idlib, and it's incredible.

There you could see a Syrian government flag prominently flying in the heart of the city, and less than a kilometer away, a Syrian opposition flag of green, black and white also flying in the heart of the city.

It's clear that sometimes what's dividing these forces, what's dividing government and opposition control, is just a matter of kilometers.

Government and rebel forces are very close together and, in some cases, engaging in fierce battles with a daily report of casualties, of civilians dying as a result of these deadly clashes.

And there have been cases, we've been told, within the last 24 hours of deadly artillery assaults hitting opposition-held villages and killing at least two residents of that village.

They tell us they're trying to protect their communities, their families, their villages by laying rings of improvised landmines, but they're fully aware they do not have weaponry to match the tanks, armored personnel carriers and air power of President Bashar al-Assad's army. So far the only weaponry we have seen are assault rifles, which can't really do a lot of damage against the kind of armor and air power that the Syrian government has.

They do seem to be preparing for the possibility of a Syrian military offensive that they know they won't have considerable weaponry to defend themselves against.

The inhabitants say they're enjoying what they say is self-rule, what they call pockets of liberated Syria, but they're fully aware the bulk of the Syrian army is being held down in the siege of the much larger city of Homs.

They say if that siege lifts and if the Syrian government forces are victorious there, that will free them up to attack these areas, and they warn that would lead to a massacre.

For more coverage of what's happening inside Syria, check out:

Wounds ooze, doctors cry in Syrian city

U.N. to take up resolution condemning Syria crackdown

Activists say trying to flee from homes under attack is virtually a suicide run

Fearful residents prepare for a bloody battle

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Filed under: CNN Inside Syria • Syria
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Corinne Sternlieb

    Appalling, what is happening in Syria. It is outrageous that the world dithers at the UN, men and some women blathering on about distractions, while the citizenry of Syria suffers, lives in fear and deprivation, and its children are brutalized and murdered by the adults who should be protecting them. We have helped Libya, Egypt, many others. We were helped in our country's time of need during OUR revolution. Why are we not helping the citizens of Syria?

    February 16, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jackola

      We should not be interfering because the rebels are Sunni Muslims who are rebelling against a Shiite Muslim ruling party. (i.e. Muslim against Muslim). Sunni Muslims are the part of Islam that produced Al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, 9-11, etc. etc. Their best bet is to simmer down. BTW, the ruling party is secular, which is why the 10% Christian minority in Syria is not revolting.

      February 17, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  2. Andrey

    Over and over again: liberals never learn. And I do not mean US liberals – it is their general failure, no matter where they come from.
    And now, you will not here: " ... we should not have get involved..." or " ...we have got it wrong..." It is always: "we gave them democracy and freedom and they just screwed it.." Like somebody in Iraq and Afghanistan was begging for freedom and democracy!
    So no matter what happens in Egypt, Libya and Syria – they will be demanding bombing, shooting, killing... Like for the first time! Their biggest concession sounds like: "lets bomb them to pieces from drones and then stay away – let them sort the rest out by themselves..." Is it liberal-smart, or what?

    February 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jackola

      It's all Obama's fault!!!

      February 17, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. English Only

    My only fear is that it will be over to soon....... take a bullet for Allah....

    February 16, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Justin Jackson

    What is going on over there is horrible. But this is what the bible for tells. If we did go help then we are bring bullies and if we don't then again it's our fault for letting it happen.but either way what would it change yea we can go kill people but if there domainer stay the same we will be right back were we are today in a few short years if it wasn't for the greed of man then everything would be ok.but instead we all talk about what we should do but don't do anything are self but waiting on some one else if we all just stop in look at are self and just ask is this really what I want for myself and start seeing everyone as human beings in not black white or what ever the point I'm trying to make is we can't change the world until we change ourselves

    February 17, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jackola

      Amen!

      February 17, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Jackola

      By the way, what you said is interesting. You say "we can't change the world until we change ourselves" which comes almost straight from the Koran: إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ (Allah will not change a people until they change themselves).

      February 17, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. mehmet

    what about Iraq Afghanistan ! how many civil murdered by U.S. army

    February 17, 2012 at 4:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • rick

      orobably not s many as the girls killed by the taliban for going to school. or the girls scarred by fire and acid when their schools are burned to the ground and acid is thrown into their faces

      February 17, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. bondmoses

    What is the depth of the misery in Syria.

    February 17, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. ma & pa

    Democratic secular governance could end theocratic sect mob rule genocide. No fighting along religious sect hatred lines allowed. But all those sects know how to do best is kill each other ("slay the infidel" even your own), instead of finding shared peaceful beliefs to save themselves.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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