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WAR REPORT
Syria rebel officers plan post-Assad army
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) Nov 26, 2012


Syria warplanes hit village near Turkey, hundreds flee
Atme, Syria (AFP) Nov 26, 2012 - A Syrian warplane bombarded the village of Atme near the northwestern border with Turkey on Monday, prompting hundreds of panicked residents to flee, an AFP journalist said.

The fighter jet overflew Atme three times at a low altitude and dropped at least six bombs or rockets into populated areas near a school that houses a rebel command centre, without causing any casualties, witnesses said.

The journalist observed six points of impact on three houses, a garden and a road. Residents spoke of three bombs while others said rockets caused the damage.

The rebel command centre, which also houses the Damascus Eagles brigade of the Free Syrian Army, was not affected.

A warplane again bombed the area of Atme and the nearby border crossing of Bab al-Hawa at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT). The jet made four sorties, bombing twice, each time using decoys first to avoid possible anti-aircraft fire.

Two plumes of smoke rose over the hills around Bab al-Hawa, the reporter said.

With each overflight, the aircraft verged on Turkish airspace. People familiar with the terrain claimed it had briefly crossed into Turkey, from where the hum of high altitude jets could be heard.

"The MIG flew very low. It made three passes," according to Mahmud, the owner of one of the damaged houses.

One of the missiles plummeted into his garden, leaving a large crater in the ground, shattering windows and scattering furniture.

"The whole family was in the house. Thank God, nobody was hurt," he told AFP.

"This is what Bashar (al-Assad) sent us to solve the problems of Syria. And thanks to (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan for this no-fly zone," he said sarcastically, referring to the Syrian president and the Turkish prime minister.

The village of Atme, just two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the border, was once home to 7,000 people.

Ongoing violence has forced many to seek shelter in a refugee camp in nearby Qaa village, or even in makeshift camps in the surrounding olive groves.

The bombing did not hit the camps but caused a mass panic among the refugees, hundreds of whom climbed over barbed wire fences for safety in neighbouring Turkey.

"The Turkish border guards fired in the air, but it was useless. Hundreds of families, with bundles on their heads, entered Turkey," said a witness.

By the late afternoon, the guards ordered the refugees to return back the way they came. With no alternative, most returned to the muddy, cold and unhygienic tents on the other side.

The region in Idlib province is a hub for the rebellion and Atme and its environs in particular are home to numerous rebel groups.

Syrian rebel officers have formed a commission to lay the foundations for a future army and liaise with the political opposition on issues such as arming fighters on the ground, a spokesman said on Monday.

The announcement came in a video posted to YouTube on Sunday which shows some 50 Free Syrian Army officers wearing military fatigues assembled in a dimly lit basement room, one of whom reads a statement listing the objectives and basic principles agreed on during their gathering.

Anticipating the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the statement lists as a key objective of the Free Officers Assembly "to lay the correct foundations for the construction of the new Syrian army, which will be a non-partisan defender of the rights and dignity of the people in line with the National Coalition."

Another is to liaise with the Coalition, a newly-formed umbrella opposition bloc, in securing financing and equipment and to provide logistical support to rebel battalions fighting the Assad's forces.

The FOA statement says one dissident officer will be appointed as a representative to the coalition, which seeks to present a united front to the international community in hopes of securing weapons to topple the Assad regime.

The group also stresses the importance of maintaining positive relations with civilians who have taken up arms against Assad.

In preparation for the fall of the regime, the FOA will also "cooperate with the transitional government to enforce security and arms control in the transitional phase."

The commission listed eight basic principles making up a code of conduct, including that officers may not belong to any political party and that each member of a future national assembly "represents only himself, regardless of affiliation to any fighting force on the ground."

Officers, it says, should be loyal "only to God, the people and the nation" and avoid any "partisan, tribal or sectarian allegiances."

Accurate numbers are impossible to confirm, but FSA military council head Mustafa Sheikh told AFP in early November that 70,000 soldiers and 25 percent of the officer class had now defected, although nearly half of these are in prison.

The rebels have had difficulty overcoming the doubts of Western powers, particularly the United States, which is wary of providing heavy weaponry due to fears of extremist elements among their ranks.

The new Syrian National Coalition, formed November 11 amid much fanfare in the Qatari capital Doha, was snubbed by a number of Islamist groups in Aleppo province including the two most important, the Al-Nusra Front and Liwa al-Tawhid.

Analysts says that the success of the Coalition will depend on its ability to exert control over the wide array of armed groups fighting Assad's forces, among them hardline jihadists.

Britain and France have joined Turkey in recognising the Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. Paris has also suggested arming the opposition fighters.

A number of other countries, including the United States, have granted only limited recognition to the opposition bloc while some, including Russia, vehemently oppose such moves.

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