ANTAKYA, Turkey — In three years of fighting, rebel commanders had never seen anything like the video that went up on the Internet last week. There was Brig. Gen. Suhail al Hassan, one of President Bashar al Assad’s favorite commanders, pleading with the Syrian defense minister for urgent help.
“Sir,” he began, speaking into his cell phone. “The fighters in al Ziara have retreated. There are 800 fighters. They are all around me and they want to go back. They only need ammunition. Please provide the ammunition,” he said. “Am I not right, men?”
The dozens of regime troops crowding around him shouted their agreement. “We are all ready to sacrifice our blood and our souls for you, Bashar,” they chanted.
The videos of Hassan begging for help – there are two versions of the scene that have been seen 82,000 times – are being viewed with delight and satisfaction among opponents of the Assad regime. “I know him. He was rattled. He’d lost his composure” said Col. Jemiel Radoon, a U.S.-backed moderate rebel commander.
With good reason. Government forces appear on the verge of being ousted from their last redoubt in northern Syria, and the forces under Radoon’s command had just blocked their escape route.
Three days after the video went up, the government was back on the attack, mounting, by rebel count, 150 air attacks, using barrel bombs, missiles and other munitions to clear the way for the retreat into the Ghab valley toward Latakia, the province where Assad’s Alawite followers predominate.
The back and forth in the Ghab Valley last week, with Radoon’s Sukur al Ghab forces pushing government forces out the northern part of the valley, then giving up three villages when confronted by the fierce aerial bombardment, is part of a much broader drama now under way: Disparate rebel forces, including Al Qaida’s Nusra Front, have stopped fighting each other and are coordinating operations against the government.