Syrians fear reprisals from Fourth Armored Division following al-Assad
ouster - Activist
28/11/2012 By Asharq Al-Awsat
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – For Omar, a young Damascene who lives in the
popular district of Jobar, “the regime has already fallen, it no longer
controls the districts except from outside”. Speaking exclusively to Asharq
Al-Awsat via telephone, Omar revealed that “everyone here is waiting for the
decisive moment and is hoping for the best”. He is following the conflict in
the Daria district with interest, claiming “it is crucial”, adding “with the
presence of more than 10,000 Free Syrian Army [FSA] elements in the city,
this time Daria will not be broken, its people will not be slaughtered and
its houses will not be destroyed…the FSA have learned from their mistakes”.
However, the young man, who is active in helping the FSA, expressed his
concern about the potential reaction of the infamous Fourth Armored Division
in the event of the fall of the regime. He said “they will not surrender
Damascus even if they know their regime has fallen, they will choose to
destroy it and bombard it indiscriminately”.
The Fourth Armored Division has been used in offensive missions against
protestors and revolutionaries since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution
in 2011, and is the second most important military unit for the al-Assad
regime, after the Republican Guard. Its key mission is to besiege the
capital Damascus and maintain a military grip upon it. The division, with
its main headquarters located in the Muhajireen district of Damascus, is led
by Brigadier General Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of Bashar al-Assad
who is also the commander of the Republican Guard.
For his part, a member of the Damascus Coordinating Committee for the Syrian
Revolution has revealed that “Mount Kassioun, overlooking the capital, has
in recent weeks transformed into the largest military barracks Damascus has
ever known, pointing its artillery guns at all rural areas surrounding the
He added “the Syrian regime thinks that the rebel march upon the capital is
imminent. Hence ammunition depots have been assembled in and around the
capital, with the biggest being stationed on Mount Kassioun. The regime is
aware that should the outskirts of the capital fall into the hands of the
FSA, this would be the beginning of the end, especially after the
experiments conducted by the FSA during the month of Ramadan when its front
ranks penetrated Damascus regions such as Kafar Souseh and Mezzeh”.
The opposition activist stressed that “it is unlikely that the Fourth
Armored Division will announce its defection from the Syrian regime the
moment it collapses”, adding “it will continue to kill and bombard the
capital until it has destroyed it”.
The activist attributes this to the fact that “the division’s troops are
completely loyal to the current regime, in addition to the sectarian
connection”. The vast majority of officers and troops in the Fourth Armored
Division belong to the Alawite sect, the same sect that President Bashar
al-Assad hails from.
However the activist asserted that “fear of the Fourth Armored Division’s
reprisals will not prevent the revolutionaries from preparing for the battle
for Damascus, which is now just around the corner”.
He added “we on the inside are preparing for this battle with all our
capabilities; people have begun to stock up on medical supplies, others are
drawing up plans to evacuate civilians, and others are waiting for the
assault to begin”. He pointed out that “the battle will be especially
bloody, so the FSA is trying now to think of a way in which to fight the
conflict whilst distancing civilians from the battleground”.
The Fourth Armored Division dates back to the era of the late Syrian
President Hafez al-Assad. It was established by his brother Rifaat al-Assad,
who led the “Defense Brigades” responsible for the massacres in the city of
Hama in 1982. It is believed that those brigades were incorporated into the
fourth division after Rifaat al-Assad was exiled in 1984, due to a dispute
with his brother over power. The Fourth Armored Division is considered the
best trained and equipped military entity within the Syrian army, possessing
the latest heavy weaponry such as Russian T-72 tanks, whilst estimates
suggest it has around 20,000 cadres.
According to activists, the division’s tanks have taken part in violent
attacks on Syrian cities, especially the city of Homs, where districts such
as Babr Amr have been exposed to widespread destruction. A number of Alawite
officers from the Fourth Armored Division are also reportedly deployed in
other military formations, especially those with Sunni majorities, in order
to prevent defections.