By Lizzie Phelan
January 21, 2012
About four days ago I visited Zabadani late at night after watching an Al-Arabiya report that stated thousands of so-called “Free Syrian Army” officers had taken the city. Later the channel showed footage of a convoy of approximately 10 cars filled with armed fighters apparently in the city.
This is what I saw when I visited shortly after those reports (Zabadani is about a 30 minute drive from Damascus).
When I drove into the city, there was just one checkpoint on the way in. The legitimate Syrian Army soldiers there who were busy building a fire to keep warm in light snow waved us through. We drove for about ten minutes into the city and the streets were completely dead, no gunshots no “Free Syrian Army” checkpoints, nothing.
On the way out we stopped at the checkpoint leaving Zabadani to speak to the legitimate Syrian Army soldiers. They told us that if we wanted, we were free to turn back around and drive through Zabadani all the way to Lebanon. Hardly what they would say if the city was in the process of being “taken” by insurgents.
Today the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, claiming to be in the city, reported that the town was under “full control of opposition forces”, without presenting any credible evidence whatsoever.
We do know that being so close to the Lebanese border there are certainly armed insurgents in the city. And I also know that the road to Zabadani remains much as it was when I visited. So, when does a city become taken? There was hardly a battle between the army and insurgents and government forces are definitely moving through parts of the city although I cannot confirm that this is the case for the whole city. Are images we see of Zabadani, like in Libya before it, of a few insurgents surrounded by some “anti-Asad” protesters being sent to news channels so they can say that the city has been taken? It wouldn’t be the first time the Qataris were so desperate for some return on their investment that they fabricate a “victory”.
Of course the problem for the military is not that they are overpowered by the terrorists. As usual the difficulty is when they embed themselves amongst a civilian population, it is extremely difficult for the army to respond without endangering civilian life. And in the meantime the terrorists terrorise communities and increase their grip of power over them.