Dateline gets behind the rebel frontlinein Syriatoreport ona rarely-seen side of the conflict with the Assad government.
Spare a thought tonight for the people in the Syrian city of Homs. The Red Cross says it is negotiating with the Syrian government and the rebels there to allow women and children out of the besieged city. The talks are occurring even as the Government is reportedly flooding military enforcements to the area for a possible ground assault. The Opposition district has become a critical prize for both sides in this bloody war. Our next story takes us inside the suburb where street fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army say they will fight to the death. Here is Vicky Strobl.
REPORTER: Victoria Strobl
If the Syrian uprising has a heart, it is beating on these streets. But it is bleeding here too. For month now the city of Homs has been under a near constant bombardment. But for all their firepower, their tanks, mortar and artillery, Syrian forces still face stiff resistance. In the lead-up to the latest assault to the city, a French film crew entered Homs undercover to document the fright the rebel point of view. They found the men of the Free Syrian Army the FSA determined to battle onto the bitter end.
SOLDIER (Translation): I am from Brigade 155 - we brought our guns with us.
Dressed in civilians clothes the rebels are mostly deserters from the army of President Bashar al-Assad. The Sunni neighbourhood here is their frontline. Here the fighters discover a truck filled with ammunition destined for Bashar Al Assad's soldiers. Heavy fire prevents them from retrieving it. They decide instead to destroy it.
Abdul Razzak Tlass is a local hero. A Charismatic 25-year-old who commands the brigade of 600 strong, the regime, he says is committing atrocities against its own people.
ABDUL RAZZAK TLASS (Translation): They use shells on civilians, on children, cities and districts with the intention of frightening the people and forcing us to leave them and get out.
Lieutenant Tlass was among the first to dessert the army of Bashar al-Assad. A Sunni Muslim and a nephew of Syria's former Defence Minister he quickly became a potent symbol of resistance.
REPORTER (Translation): Do you get scared?
ABDUL RAZZAK TLASS (Translation): No, praise be to God. Death is the worse thing that can happen and we seek it. According to our beliefs, death leads to martyrdom. So either we become martyrs or we defeat Bashar al-Assad.
REPORTER (Translation): What about torture, don't you fear it?
ABDUL RAZZAK TLASS (Translation): It's not a possibility.
REPORTER (Translation): Why not?
ABDUL RAZZAK TLASS (Translation): We have decided that if we are about to get caught we have a plan to die as martyrs.
Lieutenant Tlass is preparing to welcome his latest bunch of recruits, civilians who are increasingly drawn to the FSA's ranks and a gaggle of children who want the fight too one day.
REPORTER (Translation): did you defect for them?
ABDUL RAZZAK TLASS (Translation): For the kids, the old, the young, the women and all Syrians. This is a message for Bashar;These are the heroes - the Freedom Generation.
This morning Syrian snipers have claimed another victim. A little girl, her mother is thankful and amazed she is alive.
MOTHER (Translation): The bullet entered here and exited here, but praise be to God;see her jumper?
She was operated on in a clandestine hospital but was immediately rushed into hiding at home. Like many of those injured in Homs she is suffering in secrecy. The regime has been systematically arresting anyone found with bullet wounds. Later the crew is led to the van guard of the rebels, a dozen fighters just 20 metres from Syrian forces. Nearby buildings offer little guarantee of safety.
SOLDIER (Translation): They break the walls so they can move from house to house without going out into the street.
Suddenly a warning is sounded. A few moments later the first shots ring out. An attack is under way across the other side of the city. FSA fighters gather to repel the invaders. They advance street by street. If the skirmish lasts an hour but no losses are reported on the rebel's side - an hour before prayer around 100 fighters regroup. Mixed in with the rebels are fighters that look more like Muslim extremists than army deserters. The FSA quickly dismisses any questions about their background. That evening the people are in defiant voice. A delegation of Christian women are welcomed into the throng.
CROWD (Translation): The people want international protection.
ABDUL RAZZAK TLASS (Translation): The regime tried to cause sectarian conflicts, but Syrians are united. The rebels have no racism or sectarianism. Only two sides exist, the regime and the revolution and freedom.
The next day brings a dramatic and unexpected development. Prisoners have been captured near the frontline. They are questioned in front of the cameras. Since the beginning of the revolt the Syrian Opposition claims that Iran is directly supporting the oppression. But for Lieutenant Tlass and his men this is the evidence they have been looking for. The free Syrian army has been known to kill its prisoners but these men will be used as bargaining chips. Under-resourced and vastly out gunned the Rebels of Homs need every advantage they can get.
YALDA HAKIM: In the past few days the Syrian Government says that the young rebel leader in Homs has been killed but the French crew that film would the rebels say that is Government propaganda and he is still alive. There is a special section than our website about the up risings across the Arab world with an interactive guide to what is happening where.
A Magneto Presse Production
Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN
21st February 2012