By Yara Bayoumy, Reuters
ALEPPO, Syria — At a crowded market stall in Syria, a middle-aged couple, well dressed, shuffle over to press a folded note, furtively, into the hand of a foreign reporter. It is the kind of silent cry for help against a reign of fear that has been familiar to journalists visiting Syria over the past two years. Only this is not the Damascus of President Bashar al-Assad but rebel-held Aleppo; the note laments misrule under the revolution and hopes Assad can defeat its “terrorism.” “We used to live in peace and security until this malicious revolution reached us and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) started taking bread by force,” the unidentified couple wrote. “We ask God to help the regime fight the Free Syrian Army and terrorism — we are with the sovereignty of President Bashar al-Assad forever.” While they might not be all they seemed — agents of Assad’s beleaguered security apparatus want to blacken the rebels’ name — their sentiments are far from rare in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and once-vibrant hub of trade and industry, whose diverse urban communities now face hardship and chaos at the hands of motley bands of fighters recruited from surrounding rural areas. As government forces fight on in parts of Aleppo, in large areas that have been under rebel control for six months or more complaints are getting louder about indiscipline among the fighters, looting and a general lack of security and necessities like running water, bread and electricity in districts that have been pounded by tanks and hit by Assad’s air force. Recognizing that mistrust, rebel units have set up command and policing structures they see forming a basis of institutions which might one day run the whole country and which, meanwhile, they hope can show Arab and Western supporters that they have the organization to handle aid in the form of money and weapons. For those who fear the worst for Syria now that the revolt has unleashed long suppressed ethnic and sectarian rivalries, however, evidence in Aleppo that these new institutions have had little practical impact on often rival rebel groups is ominous.
And all the while relations grow testier between the rebels and Aleppines, for whom many fighters harbor some disdain after the urbanites’ failed to rise up on their own against Assad. Parasites Rebel commanders interviewed in and around Aleppo in the past two weeks acknowledged problems within the FSA — an army in name only, made up of brigades competing for recognition and resources. But they laid much of the blame on “bad apples” and opportunists and said steps are being taken to put things right.