Few of the fighters agreed to be photographed without scarves covering their faces. This was not out of concern for their security, Mohammad explained. Rather, in the past months of rough living, many of the fighters had grown beards. Indeed, Mohammad's beard was much fuller than the whiskers I'd seen on his face when we first met in Guvecci, a Turkish village along the border he had initially fled to in June.
The fighters were concerned that the photographs would be used by the Assad regime as "proof" that it was fighting Islamic extremists. "There is no barber," said one fighter. "When we were in the Army we were prevented from growing our beards long. So to distinguish us from the military, we make our beards long."
After a long discussion about the photos and their possible implications, the fighters seemed relieved to hear that I understood having a beard in the Middle East did not necessarily mean someone was a fundamentalist. The raised their arms and shouted "Allahu Akbar!" when one of them spoke of overthrowing Assad, but hardly came across as Islamists.
Again denying all reports of arms smuggling from Turkey, Mohammad said the FSA had a gun for every man, some taken from the Syrian military. They wanted to be supplied with arms, but were not receiving any from abroad, he claimed. "God will help us fight Bashar Assad if no one helps us," he said.
What Mohammad seemed to want, even more than weapons, was an internationally established buffer zone and no-fly zone inside Syria. "Many people from other cities can come to stay [there], or wounded can go to Turkey," he said.
Abdul Satar Yunsu, the FSA commander of the Hamza Khatib Brigade, laid out three possible locations for a buffer zone: In Deraa, near the Jordanian border; in Deir al-Zour, near the Iraqi border; and in Idlib, along the border with Turkey. Of all these options, however, the buffer zone along the Turkish border seems the most plausible.
Turkey is not yet leading the international charge into Syria. But the FSA might just carry its flag further south in the coming months.