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. sjdsh

    It seems the two decades of a unipolar world order, permitting Washington to go unchecked in expanding its hegemony to achieve global domination is ending. The choice was not between siding with 'tiny Syria' or with the 'mighty United States', but instead it's whether to allow the first world power to destroy yet another government OR to at last upset that balance of power and create a More Just International Order....& It's About Time!! No More Wars Based on Lies!

    February 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. teez abook minakbar

    Every Arab spring uprising ends up with a Muslim fundamentalist regime, we do not want that to happen in Syria. Women, Christians and others will suffer.

    February 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hera

      The first thing the Muslims will do is attack Christians and other religious minorities as has been the case every where else during the "Arab spring" when Muslim fundamentalists take power.Ironically strong men like Saddam Hussein, Assad and Mubarack protected religious minorities from Muslim fascists. The same will happen in Syria which could be why Al Qaeda supports the Syrian "rebels".

      February 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @teez: absolutely zero arab spring uprisings have 'ended up' at all, yet.. leaders have been toppled, but no new leader has been declared anywhere. if you are going to speculate, at least base it in fact..

      February 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Altenarion

    Omg... you are being brainwashed

    February 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bill

    This country is just in the process of doing what they love to do...fight and bicker. Every other nation that has experienced that "Arab Spring" thing, has gone right back into the same old stuff...maybe worse! Just like Iraq, even after all our efforts and lives lost, these folks just don't want a get-along kind of lifestyle; they've been killing, stoning, beheading and otherwise being primitives for centuries and they prove every day by the news headlines that they embrace that behavior. Good luck to 'em, enjoy yourselves....as long as we stay out of it for a change!

    February 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. leeintulsa

    umm.. if u take arms against the government, you are no longer an unarmed civilian..

    February 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      they will shoot you for *that* here..

      February 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rami

      Exactly: ".. if u take arms against the government, you are no longer an unarmed civilian"... it makes you a rebel and any soverign country would respond to that by firing back at you...

      February 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. freeafrica

    "les than a kilometer separate the government and rebels" are u kidding me? U telling us that their kalash can't match syrian weaponry, why cant they just smash them up? Smoking lies outter here!

    February 16, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Just a thought

    Something makes me feel uneasy about a crowd of people with AK's screaming "Alahu Akbar"...what do you guys suggest? We go help them and then go back 10 years later to fight what has become of the country, a new Afghanistan filled with religious fanatics.

    February 16, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      my son will be eighteen in ten years. no way in hell..

      February 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dana

    You point a weapon at a soldier why would you think it unfair when he kills you? What about a bottle of gas, you throw it at me when I'm in a tank and that sort of display may cause me to cook why would it be unfair for me to shoot a round back at you? You all have some splainin to do.

    February 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. fernace

    If the government has been shooting your friends & neighbors for years, just for speaking out against an oppressive, abusive regime, it makes perfect sence for People to fight back!! If you don't live there you don't know!!

    February 16, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Radgast

    when something is bad, I'll take my chances with change.

    February 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. GiuseppeB

    The rebels are the al-Qaeda and these stories are yellow journalism trying to support Hussein Obama's inexplicable desire to assist al-Qaeda in taking over Syria.

    February 16, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. leeintulsa

    the point being i'm for the rebellion, but call it what it is. certainly, there are innocents suffering... but they're trying to throw a revolution. their freedom isn't worth my kids dying..

    February 16, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. GiuseppeB

    The al-Qaeda rebels will massacre the Christians if and when Assad leaves, good job Obama

    February 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      if i have my way, you'll never be able to blame anything that happens in syria on us..

      February 16, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe Fattal

    Is the military shooting their own not people only but family members also?. It doesn't make any sense unless before they blow up a building someone in the military stop them that has his wife and children in that building. Unless they have mercenaries doing the main killing.

    February 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DAN

    The world stood by and watched Hitler massacre all opposition and until the Syrian conflict spills into neighboring countries there will be no outside help in containing this slaughter. Yes this is a slaughter the worst of all human capacity to sit idle and watch as humans are slaughtered with little to no defense for ones life. I would definately hate to be a citizen of SYRIA presently. I would also like to thank China and Russia for their outpouring devotion for peace although I would much rather bring the war into their countrys and masacre their citizens in cold blood especially the children because they mean so little. Seriously I am an american who wishes I could travel the globe unhindered to my destination armed to the teeth all the ammmo I could carry and Send Bashar straight to hell for the ocean of blood he has taken from his people. I apologize that this may have offended others but as of now I am helpless to do anything for inocent peoples being slaughtered and this bothers my concience to a great degree. I wish the world would grow a llittle fuzz on the nuts and bring Bashar the fight he has coming.

    February 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
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