AIN AL-BAIDA, SYRIA – The Turkish flag flies next to the green, white, and black standard of the Syrian revolution at a Free Syrian Army (FSA) position above the village of Ain al-Baida. Here, about 150 rebel fighters -- mostly defectors from the Syrian Army -- are situated in concrete and cinderblock houses pockmarked by bullet holes, their weapons pointed across the valley at the Syrian military below.
Ain al-Baida is just across the border from Turkey, in Syria's Idlib governorate. The village is not much more than a small cluster of buildings in a wide valley surrounded by wooded hills. The FSA has spread out across the north of Syria, making it difficult for Syrian security forces to control areas outside the major cities, such as Aleppo.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on protesters -- over 4,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations -- has provoked a growing armed resistance to his rule. These insurgents, comprised of defected army soldiers and outraged citizens, are building their military strength from a sliver of territory within Syria. They also rely on an impressive network of supporters inside Turkey to ferry supplies into Syria, deliver messages for senior FSA commanders, and transport wounded fighters and fleeing refugees out of the country.
On Dec. 7, Turkey announced additional sanctions on Syria, including a 30 percent tax on goods arriving from the country. For the past several days, Syria has blocked Turkish trucks from entering, forcing Turkey to look for alternative routes for trade with the Middle East.
The poorly armed fighters challenging Assad's army believe that only an armed uprising stands a chance of toppling the Syrian regime. "We cannot accept our families and friends being killed," said a burly fighter wearing camouflage fatigues and grasping an assault rifle. "We will fight Assad by any weapon, by knife, by gun. We will fight."
Though the FSA claims to be composed of defectors from the Syrian military, this man said he was a civilian volunteer from the town of Jisr al-Shughour, which had been demolished this summer by the Syrian army's infamous Fourth Armored Division, under the control of the president's brother, Maher.