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Sovereignty of Violence: A Visit to Syria's Civil War

Money for the rebellion is coming from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The FSA no longer has to rely on small smugglers’ convoys to bring the lifeblood of arms and ammunition. The Gulf Arabs’ money -- along with reported U.S. direction -- is helping to turn the rebels into a fighting force able to mount an effective challenge to Assad.

The results in the field have been plain to see. Once, the rebels had only rifles and RPG-7s, grossly inadequate against the armor, artillery, and attack helicopters of the dictator. No longer: they are destroying tanks and armored vehicles in Idleb now. They are taking on the army head on in Homs Governorate, the heartland of the rebellion. Increasingly large areas of Syria are no longer under the control of the regime: from the Turkish border down to Hama; north and south of Homs city; and in Zabadani.

In Idleb, the army controls the main highways, but the troops now rarely venture too far away from the main road. In the open areas and in the villages, armed men wait to strike at cumbersome, unsuspecting patrols.

It is a cruel, ugly, and brutal conflict. Assad, aware that the walls are closing in, is employing his sectarian thugs in what looks like a systematic attempt to clear out non-Alawis from the Latakia Governorate in the northwest. He appears to be creating a stronghold of Alawi population, which will form a safe zone and baseline for his side in the sectarian civil war now underway in Syria.

His forces routinely butcher civilians. Whole families in Taftanaz. Children in Houla. And these are only the examples that the news media or researchers managed to reach. This is a regime steeped in blood.

The bloodshed leaves a wake of broken lives. There are traumatized children in Binnish, instantly recognizable: kids who will not leave their parents’ sides, even for a moment. These children who have learned too early that the world is not a safe place, that the tender stories parents tell their young ones with love about the kindness and order of the world outside are only stories.

These are children who witnessed the rampage of the Shabiha through their homes, in search of their hidden activist fathers. Who watched as the pumped-up, steroid-filled giants of Alawi killers smashed their homes to pieces. They have lost their innocence, at a time before the resignation that living brings could replace it with calm and acceptance. The result is in their eyes, which are prematurely knowing.