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Soldiers in Syria defect

Syrian troops defy orders to kill unarmed protesters during latest offensive in Jisr al-Shughour.

On Saturday, news broke that a lieutenant colonel had defected with a number of his troops and joined residents of Jisr al-Shughour, according to an activist, an account corroborated by reporting from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC).

The activist said the lieutenant colonel defected during an operation in Bdama village, six miles west of Jisr al-Shughour, taking 150 armed troops with him to support the besieged town.

In a video published on June 10, a man claiming to be an officer in the army announced his defection, saying he and other soldiers had joined the uprising after being unable to continue killing unarmed protestors, particularly what he called the “massacre” in Jisr al-Shaghour on June 4.

“Our current aim is the protection of the protestors who are asking for freedom and democracy,” said the man, giving his name as officer Hussein Harmoush. He is believed to have crossed the border into Turkey.

Harmoush called on soldiers to “protect civilians and property as well as government buildings from the criminal elements led by Bashar al-Assad and his regime.”

Those sentiments were echoed in testimony from Waleed Qashami, whose military ID shows him to be a member of Syria’s Republican Guard, an elite division assigned to the protection of the capital, under the command of Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother, who also commands the Fourth Division.

Speaking to Amnesty International by phone from the country where he is now taking refuge, the 21-year-old said he was among 250 soldiers sent to quell a protest in Harasta, a suburb of Damascus, on April 23.

Qashami’s officer told him he was there to confront a “violent gang.” But what he found was about 2,000 unarmed protesters, including women and children. As in Banias, many of the men went bare chested to show they carried no weapons.

“We were surprised that the secret police and security opened fire with live ammunition on the demonstrators without any reason, on women and children,” said Qashami in video testimony.

“We in the Republican Guard took an oath to protect the country, its citizens and leader, not to betray the country … We saw no armed gang. We didn’t even see anyone carrying a knife.”

Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand reported from Beirut, Lebanon with reporters in Syria.