January 13, 2015
By Dan Wilkofsky
AMMAN: Pro-opposition news sources circulated video footage Monday of 20 Syrian army soldiers captured in Al-Hasakah imploring the regime to begin negotiating for their release from rebel captivity before they are executed next month.
The soldiers, reportedly members of Battalion 546—a border guard force operational in the southern Hasakah countryside—were captured in February 2013 after battling rebel forces in the area, and are being held by the Liwa Ansar al-Haq brigade.
Abu Muhammed, a military commander in Liwa al-Haq, said he will hand the soldiers over to the Sharia Court for execution on February 10 in the absence of a prisoner exchange with the regime, reported pro-opposition Dubai-based al-Arabiya. Abu Muhammed said that the latest round of negotiations with Syrian Arab Army Major Muhsin Muhammed failed after the latter refused a prisoner exchange.
A screenshot of the hostage video shot January 9. Photo courtesy of Furqan brigades.
“We implore the regime – no exchange for us has occurred,” says Staff Sgt. Suhail al-Ali Ibrahim, an Alawite from Safita in Tartus province. Ibrahim makes the following statement to the camera:
“You exchange for Iranians, you exchange for Shiites, for Christians, but for us, sons of the country and sons of his [Bashar al-Assad's] sect you don't exchange for us? Why not, because we're not officers and not from well-connected families? If we were officers they would have exchanged for us. If we were from Assad's house they would have exchanged for us. Why are we forgotten? We were loyal soldiers to this country. The officers left us and ran away, they're living with the regime and we've been prisoners for two years.”
Another soldier in the video, shot on January 9, concurs with Ibrahim and places responsibility for his capture on the battalion's commanding officers.
“The officers who were with us...they fled and abandoned us, they paid money in order to extricate themselves [from captivity].”
All four soldiers who speak at length in the video question the regime’s lack of interest in securing their release.
“From February 18, 2013 we raised a number of negotiation requests to the regime [to exchange us] with those held in regime prisons—until now, there hasn't been any positive response, or anything serious from the regime towards us,” says one of the soldiers, who appears to be in his early twenties.
“We served in Al-Hasakah for seven, eight years… Is it reasonable that this service is immediately forgotten? We want to know the reason. More than one prisoner exchange has happened in this country, in the Damascus countryside, Aleppo, Homs, why is there no exchange in our case?” another soldier asked.
One of the captured soldiers suggests that the regime values foreign militias more than its own soldiers, and warns Syrian Alawites that Bashar al-Assad is not as loyal to his sect as they think.
“If we were Iranian, or Shiite, or Russians, Russian officers, or Christians, we would have been freed.”
“I direct a message to the Alawite sect: Wake up and become aware. If push comes to shove and harm befalls you, you'll meet the same fate as us.”