ALEPPO, Syria — Firas, a youth who helped topple Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi last year, says Syrians aided in that struggle and he has now come to Syria to return the favour.
“In the Libyan revolution, many Syrians fought on our side, so it is now time to return the favour,” explained Firas, who left his studies in Britain to join the uprising to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Firas said he had been watching the events in Syria unfold on television and knew he had to do something.
“I am tired of peace conferences, of useless sanctions imposed on the Assad government; I am fed up as people look the other way while Russia and China supply weapons to the regime.
“While the world sits down to talk, women and children here in Syria die under the regime’s artillery fire and nobody does anything about it.”
Firas sees a big difference in the two conflicts.
“In Libya, we had a no-fly zone to which civilians could flee without fear of being systematically bombed, but here the cities have become death traps in which the Assad government punishes the people without a thought,” he said.
Abu Omar, another Libyan fighter, also feels it was his duty to fight in Syria.
“I had to do something for them. At the moment it is important to be here with my brothers,” he said.
The Libyans are fighting Syrian government forces in Aleppo’s Saif Al Dawla district, which has witnessed fierce clashes between the rebels and regime troops for several days now.
“After 30,000 dead you think the Syrians expect Westerners to come and help? Nobody will do anything for them because the life of a Syrian child is not worth that of a Western child,” said Abu Abdo, another Libyan.
“How many more children must die for the West to act,” he asked, adding that he is “fighting against a tyrant who uses weapons bought from the West to massacre his own people.”
He said the Libyans are not fighting a holy war.
“It is not jihad, it is a revolution,” Abu Abdo insisted, adding that “in Syria there are many foreign fighters as we no longer believe in promises coming from the West.”
Firas has his own explanation for why the West is not interfering in the Syrian conflict as it did in Libya.
“In Libya there is oil and gas and the West is still looking for wars from which it can derive economic benefits even if it is at the cost of thousands of lives, as was the case in Iraq,” he said.
“The second reason is that Libya is far from Israel, a war out there does not affect Israel as here a large-scale conflict would be devastating.”
He also pointed to talk about the presence of radical Islamists among the rebels as a concern in the West.
“Does our wearing a beard or praying to a god different than yours make us terrorists or members of Al Qaeda?” he asked angrily. “If that’s the case, then we are all Al Qaeda,” he added sarcastically.
“Qadhafi used the same technique. He said we were backed by Al Qaeda so that Europe would not intervene and he could annihilate us. Here too you are fighting against a dictator who is violating human rights every day and killing his own people.”
Firas warned that the West’s passive approach towards the Syrian conflict is contributing to the rise of pro-Qaeda sentiment among the people and rebels.
“It is undeniable that in Syria, as elsewhere, there are people who support Al Qaeda,” Firas says.
“I have met a number of fighters from a small group very close (to Al Qaeda) and it would definitely scare you to talk to them. They are very radical and they hate everything that comes from the West.”
Abu Omar echoes similar fears.
“These people are beginning to smear the Syrian revolution,” he laments.
“But what we must understand is that this is not a religious war; this is a war for a people’s freedom. We have not come from Libya to fight against Shiites or Alawites, but the troops who support the regime, regardless of their faith.”