Interviews

Commander of The Douma Sheild Battalions, Abo Ali Khabiyeh

Razan Zaitouneh

Translated by; Aishah Barazi

Commander of The Douma Sheild Battalions, Abo Ali Khabiyeh: “Entering the Midan Neighborhood was a Big Mistake, We Live for The Civilians and We Do Not Need Subordinates.”

There is nothing more than the stories being told about Abo Ali Khabiyeh. Starting from the continuous announcements of his murder which turned out to be rumors and nothing more, the debate of others about what they called recklessness & strategic mistakes and ending with stories of his courage & nobility.

There’s no means to unravel the truth from the myth and facts from rumors in most of those stories about the man and his fighting battalions. In the streets of Douma, there are contradicting opinions and stories differ from extremely negative to the other extreme of positivity. We are not in a place to evaluate the Douma Shield Battalions or their lead, we only hoped to converse with Abo Ali Khabiyeh about some of the points which have never been tackled in spite of his continuous appearances in the media.

We started with regular conversation on ammunition resources and the relationship with the Military Council in addition to the the coordination among battalions.

Relationship with the Dissent Soldiers:

Even though the Douma Martyrs Brigade to which the Douma Shield Battalions belong is a member in the Military Council but Abo Ali says that his personal stance is that he doesn’t recognize the Legalism System, the Parliament Or any thing else. As a field commander, he said, when he goes to the Military Council asking for ammunition and and they cannot give him even a few. So, on which basis would those councils have an authority over the battalions and why do we have to recognize them and be loyal to them?!

He said: The support for the Douma Shield Battalions comes from individual and limited resources, and they do not pay for their fighters as the other brigades and battalions do.

Maybe it is not only the issue of ammunition that defines the relationship of the civil fighters with the recruits.

To be frank, it isn’t only the immunization issue that defines the relationship between civil fighters and dissent recruits. It is being said in the streets that fighters do not like the dissent recruits and they work on their “alienation”! On the other hand, the dissent recruits patronize the field commanders who do not have military background. This is what is being said and it might be just “tabloids talk”. But we cannot stop thinking about it amid the the lack of dissentions among the high military ranks which is obvious in several battalions and brigades in the area then comes the issue of weak planning and coordination of military operations in the same area.

Abo Ali said: “We have dissent recruits in the brigade and I do not trust military officers; the regime is still living in them; not to mention the spies sent by the regime to intrude among us. In the beginning of the armed rebel in Douma, we were all civilians, we did not have officers among us, yet we have accomplished a lot, and we are still able to. It’s true that officers are great, many were martyred, and I have no right to evaluate people on the basis of being a dissent recruit or a volunteer, the idea is there is no place for sluggards here.”

The issue of dissent recruits rise again when it comes to ammunition of which there was an issued decree to send it to the fighters in Syria. It is being said – and we did not confirm the news from direct sources- that these weapons will be given to battalions led by dissent officers.

Abo Ali said they have heard about the arrival of ammunition to one of the fighting battalions in Eastern Ghouta which is being led by a dissent officer but his battalion did not receive anything till that moment. Also, he confirmed that even brigades among which there is no dissent recruits were receiving ammunition and weapons from their own sources; though these brigades are loyal to foreign parties and have un-national projects.

The Midan Battle (July 2012)

Speaking of the incidents that lacked planning and military strategies which are the basics for all battles, we have conversed about the incident of entering the Midan neighborhood in Damascus which had brought severe criticism to Abo Ali Khabiyeh since it was strategically wrong and a reckless decision of him.

Abo Ali said he had met with 80 commanders from Eastern and Western Ghouta and had agreed with a colonel in Western Ghouta that once he entered to Damascus, he was supposed to get backed up from several formations of the Free Syrian Army after 6 hours. They believed in themselves and entered the Midan neighborhood and a group were waiting for them there. He was designated as a leader for that battle and they stayed 6 days and nights without sleeping. The 6 hours have prolonged to 6 days through which they were fighting non-stop even for 6 minutes! The back up did not come. They have destroyed a lot and killed many of the regime’s forces eventually, they had to pull out not because insufficient ammunition but because the backup did not show up. Before they have pulled out, he called Abo Sobhi Taha (commander of the Douma Fighters Council and deputy of the Revolution’s Military Council in Ghouta) and he told him that it was the last time he will ever talk to him again. He was awaiting death and looking at tanks’ gun barrels directed to him surrounded by martyrs, wounded and exhausted fighters. He cried while retreating, when he saw hundreds of fighters pulling out with them although in the main fight only 100 have participated. He wondered from where all of these people have come, how and why they did not participate in the battle. He knew that the people of Midan neighborhood who opened their homes and host them are saying that Abo Ali brought regime’s strikes to Midan, destroyed it and then retreated but he claims that he didn’t enter by his own and sole decision. There was a previous mutual agreement with many formations of FSA. “Entering Midan was a big mistake but it was also a powerful strike to the regime.”, he said.

A Revolution Inside a Revolution:

At any rate, “Abo Ali” thinks that the main problem which has caused all the negative impacts on the revolution throughout time was the fact that in the beginning of the revolution they used to go for operations to attack a checkpoint, pray and go, they used to accomplish victory, come back, pray to thank Allah and they were happy. Now, every thing has changed. Fighters are running after booties, they have legalized robbery under the name of the revolution, and of course drugs.

We have asked him in that context about the spread of drug pills and weeds in the Eastern Ghouta area, he replied: “pills are coming here for free by the government. We have all tried weeds before the revolution and it was bought with money, now it is available for free! If you wander around Douma city you won’t find a single bread loft but you will find lots of weeds.”

In the end, “Abo Ali” said: “Only the righteous things will prevail, the people have to go back to their faith and main goal in this revolution. He is working at present on a project to restructure “The Old Fighters” in one military formation in Ghouta. The aim is to start with FSA, ourselves, a revolution inside the revolution.”

About the Violations and Wrong Acts:‏

Speaking of a revolution inside the current revolution, we have tapped the topic of violations that are being committed by the brigades against civilians in the liberated areas as well as the negative acts of members in this brigades. We have also specifically mentioned the military aspects being seen a lot in Douma city unlike other areas in Ghouta. In addition to some complaints we have heard about the “Douma Shield Battalion”, from the armed military reviews in the streets, reckless driving, robberies.. etc

Abo Ali said: “We have agreed lately to unify all prisons in Douma city allowing military formations to arrest recruits only or those accused of dealing with the regime. I have my self started applying that and delivered all the detained women and civilians to the united prison. In the past, if I wanted to arrest a spy, I used to do it myself along with my battalion’s members. Nowadays, I ask for a team from the military police to do the arrest accompanied by members from my battalion.”

We have debated with Abo Ali that it is wrong for the battalions to do the arrest operations which has led to big problems especially when the person being arrested is from another battalion resulting in clashes between battalions sometimes. This mission must be solely performed by the police which is the case in other liberated areas in Ghouta. Acknowledging that, he blamed the weak coordination and teamwork among the military formations in the area and added sarcastically: “Douma is the mother of all martyrs, everyone inside of it is a master or commander, and we lack people to rule! Any how, we are trying to avoid these things.”

What Belongs to The People is For The People:

Even for the booties that come from military operations, Abo Ali said: “Everything that belong to the government is a booty, but not everything we win is for us. For instance, the electrical repository, there was people who were stealing it, we entered, arrested the thieves, kept its contents as they were and delivered it to Nizar Al-Smady (Head of Civil Administration in Douma city) and we have no relation with it after that. What belongs to the people is for the people: the post office, automatic bakery.. etc, they are all for the people.”

Regarding the other acts, mentioned above, Abo Ali said: “we have been suffocating for more than 40 years. Suddenly, the citizen has become a government then those actions started to show up. For the Douma Shield Battalions we do not do military reviews to show off, they are day-and-nights round, still we have done mistakes and we are trying to avoid it, stop the outlaws and restrain their actions.”

I asked him if we want to file a complaint against ant of the members of the commanders of “Douma Shield Battalion” what is the solution?

He said: “We have a complaints office in the military prison and anybody can complain about anyone in the battalion. We should not burn our revolution with robberies and thuggish acts. We have problems, we are trying to avoid it and clean them up.”

Relationship with Civilians:

We have asked Abo Ali about their relationship withe the civilians in the city, particularly about their battalion and several others performing services which are supposed to be provided by the civil functions not the recruits.

He said: “We are strongly against interfering with civil affairs but the problem is who will do these service tasks? The absence of a strong local council leaves the mission upon us. Those who are not backed up by military rebels won’t last.”

I told him confidently! I do not have a military backup since the beginning of the revolution, and I’m still here? However, Abo Ali insisted: “You won’t last!”

Aside from what is my bet with Abo Ali regarding continuing the revolution without military backup, he proceeded: ”We live for the civilians. We do not need subordinates, loyalty, or favoring others; this is our duty. I only hope for the formation of a strong civil body to administer the civil affairs, this is not our job. The civilian is coming for us these days to solve his problem which is wrong.”

The Futuristic Syria:

We asked “Abo Ali Khabiyeh” about his vision for the futuristic Syria, he said: “Our revolution has not started yet. It will start after the fall of the regime. After toppling Bashar, his subordinates and trolls. Nowadays, there are people who works for an Islamic, Muslim Brotherhood or Communist state, each party is different and has its own ideology.. God forbids we will end up like Lebanon or Iraq. Our only guarantee is that the people had broken the siege of fear which had restrained them for 40 years. The people will rebel against anyone who will impose his vision on him. The people will decide the future of Syria. In spite of that, I know that we will suffer to get to peace and security, we are in the middle of the ultimate chaos.”

Abo Ali Khabiyeh:

We have asked Abo Ali about his statement of Bashar Assad’s death which has hit more that 2 millions view on YouTube within a few hours, then it was discredited, and we have not heard any explanation from him about what has exactly happened though many Syrians felt bad and that they were deceived by it.

Surprisingly, Abo Ali still insists that Assad was murdered and that his continuos appearances on the media are fabrications by the Syrian regime.

Finally, we asked him what does he wait for himself after the fall of the regime. He said: “I am illiterate, I do not want to become an official, I used to apply paint on walls and I want to leave my weapon and go back to my job. But I won’t leave my open at that time without a guarantee that no one will execute me. We have seen what happened to many rebels in Libya.”

We asked: What is the truth of “Abo Ali Khabiyeh”, stories ranged from being extremely tough and a merciless person to someone with a great deal of courage and nobility?

He said: “I have mercy to those who deserve it but I don’t have mercy for murderers. There were lots of detainees whom I had personally accompanied to their homes but those who deserves death are being killed.”

At the end of the interview, Abo Ali wanted to send a message to the fighters and all Syrians:

“I would like to send a message to anyone who believes he is a rebel and a fighter in all Syria not only the Ghouta area. I wish that we can go back to what we used to be, to love and care for each other like before. To feel what is going on and have mercy for the civilians who are our responsibilities and being torn between us and the regime. Now it is Ghouta’s turn and the regime is raiding. If they succeeded in entering the area due to our delinquency and disperse, there will be unexpected massacres. I wish that we can put our hands together cause we will be judged one day if we don’t. I hope that anyone civilian or recruit who has personal issues to delay till after the regime’s fall, then we can think about ourselves.”

Razan Zaitouneh
Razan Zeitouneh
Syrian human rights activist lawyer, participated in Syrian revolution in 2011 and was one of the founders of the Local Coordination Committees, which has been active in organizing peaceful movement in Syrian revolution. Razan holds several international awards in human rights and freedom of expression.
Razan continued her humanitarian work in east Ghoutta in countryside of Damascus, but she was kidnapped with three other colleagues (Samira AlKhaleel, Nazim Hammadi, and Wael Hammadeh) by extremist group that controls the area, in December 2013.
Razan is one of the founders of “Talaana Aaharih” Rising For Freedom magazine, and she kept working as a key editor until she was kidnapped.
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