A turnaround in the Syrian protests? That’s what supporters are hoping—and opponents are fearing—as a group of defectors attempts to organize an armed movement against President Bashar al-Assad. Until now, the protesters have been largely peaceful and mostly unarmed, and though defections had occurred in the past, until now they were in such small numbers that the government was able to capture or kill most defectors. But the group, calling itself the Free Syrian Army, is trying to change that. “It is the beginning of armed rebellion,” the army leader tells the Washington Post. “You cannot remove this regime except by force and bloodshed.”
So far, the army appears to be relatively small—but it has big ambitions, and offers some big boasts on its Facebook page that are likely untrue or exaggerated (that it shot down a helicopter; that its force numbers 10,000). Even so, violence has been increasing in places where the army has a presence, including Homs and Deir al-Zour, and the army is attempting to encourage more defections. Goals include procuring territory in northern Syria, establishing a no-fly zone, getting weapons from supportive countries, and then launching a full-scale attack—and even reaching some of those goals could mean a turning point, the Post notes, although the US ambassador says the army is still too small to make an impact.