Syria Behind the Lines

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ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, two enemies face each other in a brutal civil war. On one side, a young rebel soldier fighting to the death to bring down the regime of President Bashar al Assad.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] My greatest joy will be to become a martyr and for Syria to be liberated.

ANNOUNCER: Facing him, a career soldier determined to preserve the Assad regime.

ALI: [through interpreter] We are all martyrs in the marking, to keep our country safe.

ANNOUNCER: Two countrymen, now enemies, in a conflict increasingly driven by hatred.

MAN: [subtitles] We’ll kill them in their villages!

ANNOUNCER: With unprecedented access to both sides, FRONTLINE journeys deep inside Syria to reveal a war that is reshaping the Middle East in Syria Behind the Lines.

NARRATOR: The Orontes River valley tells the story of Syria. It reveals a warring nation that is breaking apart. In this valley, neighbor is fighting neighbor. Every day is a struggle to survive, a land where regime and rebels are fighting to the death. This is the story of the people who live and fight on both sides of the front line, neighbors now divided by religion, ideology and the river that runs between them.

Kansafra, Rebel-Held Village

NARRATOR: Ahmad is 20 years old and works in his dad’s garage. Nine months ago, he defected from the regime police force to join the rebel Free Syrian Army.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] I was a policeman. We were sent out to quell the protests, and some of us would open fire on demonstrators. But I used to hide. I’d throw my bullets away.

Here is my photo. I looked evil when I was serving in the regime. I was full of hatred. Now I look better. This photo was taken after I joined the Free Syrian Army. This is the real me.

The regime used to force me to shave my beard every day. When I defected, I started to grow it. I wanted to change my look while fighting with the rebels.

NASRA, Ahmad’s Mother: [through interpreter] He’s just showing off. It’s just a fashion. It’s not really him. He even struggles to read the Koran. I’m not happy about it. I want him to pray, but he doesn’t. He can do what he wants.

Twitter #frontline

NARRATOR: In the center of Ahmad’s village is the local office of the Free Syrian Army. These men were all born in this valley, and like the majority of Syrians, are Sunni Muslims. They’re determined to oust President Bashar al Assad from power.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] We want a democratic system, with a government elected by everyone in Syria. This would be better than the Assad family.

We are in the town of Kansafra. This town is a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army. It was liberated from Assad’s army more than three months ago.

NARRATOR: The army of the Assad regime has been pushed back across the valley, to the other side of the Orontes River. Ahmad’s home is well within range of their artillery. Shells and mortars are routinely fired into this village.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] God willing, Bashar al Assad’s army can’t get in here. We run things here now.



VILLAGERS: It’s a plane!

— No, it’s a shell!

— God, the shrapnel reached here?

— Get out of the way!

— Here comes another one!

— Is this a life?

— This is no life.

NARRATOR: Doctors and nurses are ordered to report immediately to the local hospital. Ahmad is already there, using his phone to film casualties.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] I ran to the area to see who was injured, to see how I could help. These people’s lives are over. This is what God has written for them. I just despaired and thought it was time that Arab countries felt our suffering.

NARRATOR: Ahmad and the people of his village have witnessed these scenes many times, fearing they will be next. Today, it’s Mohammad Mattar who has lost members of his family.


MOHAMMED MATTAR: Doctor, please look at them.

VILLAGERS: I swear to God they’re dead.

— They were already dead.

— Four dead, and one lost his leg.

— May God grant them paradise.

NARRATOR: Mohammed is surrounded by the bodies of three of his nephews. They were killed 20 minutes ago by a government shell. Inside the hospital are more of Mohammed’s relatives.

MAN IN HOSPITAL: [subtitles] Eleven shells landed on homes. The victims are refugees from Ma’arat al Nu’man. They’d fled to our village. A building collapsed. Homes and children were targeted. Look at what Bashar and his militia have done.

NARRATOR: Mohammed’s brother Mahmoud was injured while rushing his grandchildren into the house.

PHYSICIAN: Be patient, sir. Be patient.

NARRATOR: Minutes later, he died. Mahmoud’s son and his grandson are in the room next door. With limited power and dwindling medical supplies, the surgeons are convinced they can do nothing for them.


— This guy is dying.

— So is the other one.

— I bear witness that there is no god but God.

— Thanks be to God.

NARRATOR: Six members of Mohammed’s family are now dead or dying. Their bodies are driven to the nearest mosque. Like many in these villages, Mohammed is a refugee who’s fled the fighting in the nearby city of Ma’arat al Nu’man. He wants to return there to bury his relatives, but the 10-mile journey is too dangerous and no driver will take him.


— Take them down, guys. What are you waiting for?

NARRATOR: They must be buried here, far away from home.

— Abu Ali, remove his watch.

— May he be accepted as a martyr.

— May God accept as a martyr.

— May God have mercy on him.

— Guys, they’re firing on us during burials.

— I only want 10 or 15 people for the burial.

[rockets in the distance]

— Look, another one.

— It’s coming east.

— It’s exploding!

NARRATOR: Day and night, the shelling and rocketing of rebel-held villages continues.

Ahmad has filmed the aftermath of government shelling many times.

AHMAD: We Sunnis fear God. We wouldn’t take a human life for no reason, unless people are armed and attack our homes and kill us and our children. We only retaliate against the army units that shell our homes and civilians. That’s the only time we kill the regime’s soldiers.

[poster on building: "Don’t mess with Syria. Assad or no one."]

NARRATOR: Across the river are regime forces, usually off limits to Western media. Their positions along the 40-mile valley defend Syria’s Alawite heartland. This army checkpoint faces Ahmad’s village and is one of the launching sites for regime attacks. The platoon commander is Lieutenant Ali Ghazi.

Lt. ALI GHAZI, Regime Commander: [through interpreter] We are the Syrian Arab Army, and our duty is to defend this homeland, to protect unarmed civilians and to attack militants and destroy the armed mercenaries.

NARRATOR: Rebel-held Sunni villages are less than a mile away. This is President Assad’s front line.

Lt. ALI GHAZI: [through interpreter] There are a lot of armed groups over there. They’re particularly active at night or at dawn, when they’re preparing to carry out armed attacks. There used to be a sniper in the dome of that mosque. One of our soldiers here was shot in his chest by this sniper. They were using armor-piercing bullets, but we dealt with the threat.

NARRATOR: Ali is a career soldier and engaged to be married. But for the last two years, he’s been away, fighting in some of the toughest places in Syria.

Lt. ALI GHAZI: [through interpreter] A lot of my colleagues have been killed. Around 30 have been killed. Two or three were officers in Homs. This is my duty, my job. I’m dedicated to my country. We’re all martyrs in the making, to keep our country safe, to preserve this state and to protect its residents and its unarmed civilians.

NARRATOR: Lieutenant Ali and his soldiers are protecting this loyalist village, Aziziya. Like President Assad and Lieutenant Ali, the villagers on this side of the valley are nearly all Alawite, a religious sect whose faith is loosely rooted in Shia Islam. They’re a minority in Syria, but have dominated the country for over 40 years.

[graffiti: "Assad or nobody," "Long live Assad’s Syria"]

NARRATOR: Aziziya receives sporadic fire from nearby rebels. As in many poor Alawite villages, most men are away, fighting in Assad’s security forces. Many Alawites believe that the fall of the regime would lead to their death at the hands of the rebels. Everyone at the public high school knows that the senior boys may soon be drafted.

Aziziya High School

YOUNG WOMAN: [subtitles] We will follow our President’s example. Whatever Syria requires of us boys and girls, we support the Syrian army. We’re ready to sacrifice our lives.

YOUNG MAN: [subtitles] The people of Syria have always lived under one banner. Our motto is "peaceful coexistence." We are an example of brotherly love. Syria will forever be a shining beacon for the rest of the world! [students cheer]

STUDENTS: [chanting, subtitles] God, Syria, Bashar and nothing else! This Assad is no pushover! It’s written on the gun, Bashar is a sacred leader!

NARRATOR: For generations, the Alawites of Aziziya had lived peacefully with the Sunnis in the valley, even during the first year of the uprising. But as the revolution entered its second year, neighboring Sunnis began weekly demonstrations calling for the overthrow of President Assad and his regime.

Watching the demonstrations was local Alawite politician Bahjat Hamdan.

BAHJAT HAMDAN, Ba’ath Party: [through interpreter] Most of those areas with different faiths have been incubating environments for groups who have an extremist ideology. It was a plan. Weapons were brought in a long time ago. It was all planned. The lads here had been preparing in case the village was attacked.

NARRATOR: In May last year, as violence spread across Syria, fighting finally broke out between the Alawites of Aziziya and their Sunni neighbors.

MOHAMMED MAHMOUD: [through interpreter] We were with some young men. Not many of us. The attackers were in the hundreds, about 700 gunmen.

NARRATOR: Mohammed Mahmoud is part of an Alawite militia that protects the village.

MOHAMMED MAHMOUD: [through interpreter] As the attack intensified and the number of the terrorists increased, we retreated. So they came in here and burned everything. You can see the fire damage.

NARRATOR: He’s convinced that his Sunni neighbors have been infiltrated by terrorists with extreme religious beliefs.

MOHAMMED MAHMOUD: [through interpreter] They are planning to wipe us out. They don’t even think of us as human. In their books, they call our sect the "Akbiya." The "Akbiya" are insects that should live underground. We cannot surrender to this idea, because we’re talking about genocide. There can be no negotiating with this extremist ideology. You either win or you die.

The terrorist leading the attack, he was killed over there. His blood was all over the door. I killed another guy over here, next to this door, the door over there

NARRATOR: When the battle was over, at least five people lay dead, scores of houses were destroyed, and the valley was divided. Alawites and the regime army took control of this side. The Sunnis abandoned their homes and fled to the other side of the Orontes River.

[ Map: The Orontes sectarian divide]

ALI RASIF, Regime Soldier: [through interpreter] This is an empty area. No one lives here. The residents fled because of the militants. There’s nobody.

It’s dangerous ahead. That’s where most of the gunfire comes from. There’s a water tank, and we often get snipers positioned up there. This is the front line. It’s a dividing line. There are no armed militants west of here. The area to the west is almost safe. The militants want to break through here and push inside.

NARRATOR: The front line dividing Alawites and Sunnis means that hundreds of farmers now have crops in the no man’s land between the two warring sides.

ALI RASIF: [through interpreter] How can I tell if it’s a gunman or a farmer coming to plow his land? In this conflict, we can tell the difference between a gunman and a farmer. We only open fire if we see him carrying a gun We only open fire if we can see him carrying a gun.

NARRATOR: From here, rebel territory is less than a mile away, on the other side of the river. In the Sunni village directly opposite the checkpoint, local farmer Mohammed Hamadeh prepares to check his crops. Mohammed’s farmland lies on the other side of the river, in what is now no man’s land. The road leads directly to the Aziziya checkpoint and has been closed since the fighting broke out in the valley.

MOHAMMAD HAMADEH, Sunni Farmer: [through interpreter] I grow sugar beets. But for the past year, I haven’t been able to harvest them. The land is only 400 meters from the checkpoint. There’s the checkpoint over there. Anyway, here are the beets.

Look at this— ruined. We planted these a year ago. We’re ruined, totally ruined.

They keep shooting at us. They’ve killed shepherds and farmers before. We don’t even know who’s shooting at us. All we know is that it’s coming from the checkpoint.

A long time ago, the relationship between the Alawites and Sunnis was good, but now they don’t miss an opportunity to hurt us. It’s impossible for us to live with them. There’ll be vendettas for 50 years because of these crimes. If it wasn’t for the rebels protecting us, the Alawites would come into our homes, rob us and burn our houses down.

NARRATOR: As fighting continues in the Orontes River valley, the United Nations suddenly announces that both sides have agreed to a nationwide ceasefire. It will start tonight for the Muslim holiday of Eid.

The news surprises the fighters in the valley. Ahmad and his commanding officer are summoned to discuss the announcement with their battalion leader. He’s one of the most powerful rebel leaders in the region. His name is Jamal Maarouf.

AHMAD: [through translator] I’d love to be like Jamal. He’s a true leader, a leader of 10,000 armed men. Jamal Maarouf, an excellent military leader. His brigade is made up of groups from all over Syria.

NARRATOR: Jamal is the commander of the Martyrs of Syria Brigade, one of the biggest factions of the Free Syrian Army. While some rebel units contain Islamic foreign fighters, Jamal says his men are all local, and they’re fighting for a democratic Syria.

He’s called a meeting in a safe house deep in rebel territory and is clear on how he will respond to the United Nations truce.

JAMAL MAAROUF, Rebel Commander: [through interpreter] We’re not going to have a truce with killers and criminals, no way.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] So who made this declaration?

JAMAL MAAROUF: These declarations are being made by people who live abroad, people who don’t represent the revolution on the ground. I’ve contacted all the combat divisions on the ground by Skype and phone. They literally said that they do not want to commit to this truce.

Tomorrow we will hit the checkpoint at Wadi Daif. Be ready at 5:30 AM. Pray, and then come.

NARRATOR: Jamal says the attack will bring democracy and justice one step closer.

JAMAL MAAROUF: [through interpreter] Syria is for all Syrians. If the regime falls, we vow to protect all the peoples of Syria. Only killers will be held to account. We will only hold to account people who have the blood of innocents on their hands. The Alawites have the right to live in Syria. No one should be excluded from society.

NARRATOR: The next morning, just as the United Nations truce begins, Ahmad and his comrades prepare for battle.


— Get me a working walkie-talkie. This battery’s dead.

— Oh, my God, give courage to those who are afraid, the refuge of the repentant.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] We always try and pray before battle. It makes us stronger. We’ve realized that only God will help us. So we ask God for the strength to attack more checkpoints.


— Oh, God, destroy them forever and scatter them and kill them all.

— Oh, God, the all powerful, show them a day of darkness.

NARRATOR: Ahmad is going to attack a large government base at Wadi Daif. It’s a major launching point for artillery attacks in the region. It also protects the regime’s main supply route from the capital Damascus to Syria’s embattled second city, Aleppo.


AHMAD: We will smash them like ants under my foot.

FIGHTER: We will smash their skulls.

AHMAD: They don’t know who they’re messing with. I am "Snake Man" and you’re "Scorpion Man.""

VILLAGER: May God protect you!

NARRATOR: For weeks, they’ve been besieging the base at Wadi Daif. The fighting has been intense. The brother of rebel leader Jamal Maarouf was killed here only weeks ago. Today, they plan to storm the base and overrun it.

The fog allows them to move unseen to within striking distance. The base lies less than a mile down this road. And is manned by up to 500 regime soldiers.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] You see this fog? God sent this fog so we could win. There are angels fighting with us.

NARRATOR: Jamal used to be a local construction worker. Today he claims to command over 10,000 armed rebels. Nearly all his heavy weaponry is looted from the regime after successful raids.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] You should pull this out, then put the bullets in. It’s so easy, my mom could fire it.

NARRATOR: The latest addition to Jamal’s armory is a stolen rocket launcher captured by Ahmad’s unit. Unfortunately, no one knows how to aim it.


JAMAL MAAROUF: You think you can hit Wadi Daif from here?

FIGHTER: No, I’m looking for your guy Nisser.


FIGHTER: I need to get the coordinates from Google Earth.

JAMAL MAAROUF: I thought you knew it all.

FIGHTER: I know how to fire it, I just don’t know how to aim it. [laughter]

AHMAD: [through interpreter] I’m always happy when I’m around the Free Syrian Army. Our morale is high. We’re happy. We are building the new Syria. I feel happier with each inch we liberate and with each mission. My greatest joy will be to become martyr and for Syria to be liberated.

NARRATOR: Despite recent offers of support, the West refuses to arm any units of the Free Syrian Army, and these rebels are running low on ammunition.


FIGHTER: They only have 80 bullets.

FIGHTER: They want to advance, but they only have 80 bullets.


FIGHTER: The anti-aircraft gun.

JAMAL MAAROUF: I think 80 bullets are enough. Don’t you want to attack the base? I think you should go and do it. Let’s do this before they start using their jets.

FIGHTER: Go and take your positions.

NARRATOR: The attack begins, and Jamal and his commanders stay back to coordinate. Ahmad’s unit must wait, as no one can show them how to use the rocket launcher.

[ The flow of weapons]


JAMAL MAAROUF: Snipers, go to the front!

FIGHTER: The tanks should hit the armored vehicle first.

FIGHTER: Snipe anything that moves.

JAMAL MAAROUF: Come on, tell him to fire.

MAN ON RADIO: Why is he not firing? Tell him to fire.

FIGHTER: They hit us!

NARRATOR: Within minutes, regime soldiers return fire with artillery.


FIGHTER: The shells are landing closer.

FIGHTER: Come on guys, split up!

NARRATOR: With the fog clearing and his men taking artillery fire, Jamal Maarouf orders his units to fall back. Ahmad is told to take cover.


AHMAD It was safer where we were. Look, they’re hitting right there.

FIGHTER: We think the jets will attack these villages soon. They want to put pressure on the civilians so the civilians will make us call off the attack.

NARRATOR: Without the firepower to overrun the base, they must continue with the siege. As the rebel fighters dig in, the Sunni villagers move out.

WOMAN [subtitles] The people here are all afraid of war, so they’re fleeing. They’re taking their children to safety to save their lives.

Aziziya army checkpoint

Lt. ALI GHAZI: [through interpreter] This is our time to defend the country. I’m making sacrifices for women and children and for future generations. Our mission is dangerous, but we must make this country safe again.

INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] [picture of Hafez al Assad] Bashar’s father?

Lt. ALI GHAZI: [in English] My soldiers put this on the wall, not me.

INTERVIEWER: Why do you say that?

Lt. ALI GHAZI: [through interpreter] Because people say the army is from one sect or that the conscripts are forced to do things like that, and that’s not true. This army is from all parts of Syria. We don’t think in a sectarian way. Our soldiers are from all sects. We’re an ideological army. We all live together on this Syrian land. We’re not sectarian. The people over there are sectarian, and we don’t accept that.

NARRATOR: Hundreds of regime soldiers hold the front line along the Orontes River. Lieutenant Ali’s base is home to conscripts drawn from Syria’s many minorities, not only Alawites but also Christians, Druze, Kurds and Turkmen. Many of these minorities fear domination by Sunni Muslims. But there are also Sunni conscripts here, risking their lives to defend the regime.


CONSCRIPTS: We’ve been through everything together.

— It’s all dangerous. Whether it’s Talbiseh or Baba Amr, it’s all dangerous.

— You could get shot at wherever you go.

— Three months ago, about 2,000 armed men attacked us here.

NARRATOR: Soldiers’ phones are routinely monitored by the regime to limit the chance of them defecting and to prevent them from speaking to enemies like the villagers across the valley. They rely heavily on regime TV stations for news. Many are convinced they’re fighting an army of foreign terrorists, who are aided by the international media.


SYRIAN TELEVISION: The Syrian Arab Army killed terrorists from Jabhat al Nusra—

CONSCRIPTS: The armed militants commit massacres then add their own dead, and film it all. Then they send their videos to enemy TV stations, like Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the BBC. Then they blame the army for these massacres. We’ll chase them until we win.

— [sound of rocket] That’s a rocket chasing them now. [laughter]

— It’s probably targeting a gathering of them.

— That’s the third one.

— Wherever they gather, you’ll find foreign fighters from Turkey, Britain, France and Libya.

— They’ll keep at it. A lot of them are going to die and a lot of us are going to die. But in the end, what? What is right will prevail.

[ Watch on line]

NARRATOR: It’s three days since the attack on Wadi Daif and the collapse of the United Nations ceasefire. On the rebel side of the Orontes River valley, villagers are terrified of what the regime may do next.



— It’s coming!

— To the caves!

— Get in, one by one.

— Let them kill me. I don’t care anymore.

— I want to leave. We don’t know where we’re going.

— The jet is coming back!

NARRATOR: While Sunni villagers flee the daily threats, many more arrive every day, escaping the fighting in nearby cities. They think that these villages are safer. But Ahmad’s village is struggling.


VOICE FROM MINARET: People of Kansafra! If anyone has bread, please bring it to the mosque. There are hungry children here.

CHILD: For God’s sake, give us bread!

CHILD: A bag of bread, for God’s sake!

MAN: Go away!

NARRATOR: The new arrivals are putting pressure on dwindling supplies of fuel, medicine and food.


REFUGEE: Where am I going to get bread?

REFUGEE: There’s no bread.

MAN IN MOSQUE: They came to us asking for shelter. They asked us for food and water. We want to help them as much as possible. Some of you refused to host refugees in your homes. Why are you doing this, my Muslim brothers?

AHMAD: [through interpreter] I grew up in this valley. I used to mix with the Alawites a lot. We were like brothers before this revolution. We used to go to their homes until the early hours of the morning, and they’d visit us, too. If the Alawites don’t want to fight us, then we’ll solve this problem peacefully. But if they want to confront us, then we’ll respond with deadly force.

NARRATOR: Three miles from Ahmad’s village, in the settlement of al Bara, Jamal Maarouf meets his senior commanders. They’re planning their next attack on the army base at Wadi Daif.


COMMANDER: Who’s the host?

JAMAL MAAROUF: [pouring tea] In this house, the eldest is the servant.

[sound of jet and explosion]

COMMANDER: I can see where they hit!

NARRATOR: A regime jet has dropped a bomb on al Bara. It’s landed 300 yards from Jamal and his commanders. They fear they are being targeted and flee to safe houses. The bomb has destroyed homes filled with villagers and refugees.


VILLAGERS: Where are you taking my children?

— Just come in the ambulance.

— My children, my children!

— Where are my children?

— [crawling under rubble] Is anyone there?

— [covering body] This is what the U.N. has achieved.

— Where are you, Muslims?

— Hey guys, there are people under there.

— Just save the boy!

— Look out, there’s a jet!

— Please, just save the boy!

— Run, run!

— The jet’s coming back!

— My shoulder, my shoulder.

— The jet! The jet! Come on, guys!

— Come here, my son!

[ More on filming these scenes]

NARRATOR: A second bomb lands.

— Fetch an ambulance!

— Clear the way! Clear the way!

— Clear the way.

— God is with us.

NARRATOR: The people here are refugees who’ve fled the fighting in the nearby city of Ma’arat al Nu’man.

— My shoes don’t match.

— My diploma is too big for my bag!

— Let’s get to my uncle’s house.

— [digging through rubble] Can you see anyone?

— My uncle is buried there! Where is my grandpa? That is my grandfather’s house! My grandparents are buried in there!

— Enough.

— Quiet.

— Oh God, my grandparents are gone! They’ve been running from the shelling every day!

— The jet just struck.

— Get that kid to shut up!

— Get a pickaxe.

— [pulling man from rubble] Don’t hit his back! Don’t hurt him.

— Get rid of this.

— Gently, gently.

— Get this stuff away from his stomach.

— Move him gently, we don’t want to break his back.

— Is he alive? Yes!

— Put him down gently.

— Thank God he’s alive.

— [carrying body] He is dead.

— He is dead.

— God is great!

— The whole family is gone!

AHMAD: [filming aftermath of bombing] [subtitles] This is shelling by Assad’s army. It’s the third day of Eid. This is al Bara village in Jebel al Zawiya, and there are many martyrs under the rubble.

[through interpreter] I felt terrible. What can one feel, to see so many bodies, people under the rubble, and we can’t do anything about it.

No one is supporting us, and no one will. They’re just waiting for Bashar al Assad to kill us all and for us to wear out his army, his tanks and his aircraft in the process. That’s what the Western and Arab countries want. Their heart isn’t with the Syrian people. Their heart isn’t with the Syrian people, about these people that are bombed to pieces. I don’t know what I can do. There’s no power except that which comes from God.

FIGHTER: Twenty-five civilians have been killed today by the air strikes on al Bara. I swear to God I am going to take my revenge on you, Bashar, on Alawites and on civilians. Just as you kill our Muslim brothers, we will take our revenge on Alawite civilians. We will go to their villages and kill them!

NARRATOR: The next day across Syria, the regime carried out over 60 more air strikes. Over 70,000 people have now died in Syria’s civil war, many of them civilians. Many more have been injured, and over four million Syrians are now refugees.

[ Calculating the death toll]

Aziziya army checkpoint

BAHJAT HAMDAN, Ba’ath Party Official: [through interpreter] The political and military leadership in the country does not want to cause civilian casualties. Had it wanted to target civilians, it would have killed many. It is my moral, religious and patriotic duty to defend my home and my country. If this is considered a crime, if defending my country is considered a crime, then I am this country’s first criminal.

Lt. ALI GHAZI, Regime Commander: [through interpreter] I’ll feel very sad if the country stays like this. It breaks my heart. Before, I could travel late at night. Syria was a very safe place. People envied our security. It breaks my heart. I wish Syria could return to the way it was, the way we used to be.

NARRATOR: Three days after the air strikes on al Bara, the regime jets returned. Ahmad had tried to film the planes on his phone.

NASRA, Ahmad’s Mother: [through interpreter] I curse the father of Assad, and Bashar, the dog.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] I hoped to die and become a martyr, but God was satisfied with just shrapnel in my body, thank God. I can’t move my legs. There’s a dangerous injury in my head. Shrapnel has gone in here, and they can’t get it out. There’s shrapnel in my chest, too. They can’t get it out. My arm’s been badly injured. I can’t move it. I can’t carry a weapon anymore.

NASRA: [through interpreter] If he was martyred, I would pick up a gun and fight in his place.

AHMAD: [through interpreter] If anything happened to me, you’d kill as many people as there are starts in the sky, right?

NASRA: [through interpreter] I swear to God, I wouldn’t just kill them with a rifle, but I would use my own teeth. If God gave me the strength, if one day I saw Bashar al Assad, I would drink nothing but his blood, not only for my son but for all those who have been killed

NARRATOR: The Orontes river valley reveals Syria’s likely future. Whoever prevails will inherit a fractured nation, divided by religion, politics and revenge.

[Lt. Ali Ghazi is still in command of the Aziziya checkpoint. Ahmad returned to the front line, but was injured twice more. He wants to join Jabhat al Nusra, an Islamic faction linked to al Qaeda.]

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