http://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2019/07/01/feature-01

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Syrian conscripts desert to avoid Idlib conflict

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Syrian army forces now largely depend on conscripts, following defections that started in 2011. [Photo circulated on social media]

Syrian army conscripts have been deserting military service out of fear they will be killed or captured in ongoing battles in Idlib and Hama, a Syrian activist said.

This has led to tensions in the hometowns of these conscripts, he said, noting that military desertion has been taking place en masse and on a provincial basis.

"Day and night raids have been launched, and there is a large-scale deployment of regime checkpoints," said Mohammed al-Beik, an activist from rural Damascus.

Syria's Political Security Directorate and Air Force Intelligence Directorate have been cracking down on military deserters in areas such as al-Nabek in rural Damascus, he told Diyaruna.

"This came after more than 50 conscripts who hail from the town deserted military service because they refuse to go to fighting zones in Idlib and Hama after a number of them were recently killed and one was captured," he said.

According to his sources, "two conscripts have been killed", he said. "But the number of those killed may be higher than the number that was announced."

There are concerns the full death toll may have been suppressed "for fear of reactions", he added.

Raids target deserters

"During the raids, security forces act in a clearly hostile way with the families of service deserters, although the area is loyal to the regime," al-Beik said.

"The regime fears that this may be the start of civil disobedience, as in Daraa, where there is rejection of fighting in Idlib too," he said.

"There have been rumours that families help their sons hide or flee to neighbouring countries with the collusion of pro-regime militias, including Lebanon’s Hizbullah," he said.

Hizbullah "is not on good terms with the Syrian Republican Guard divisions in Idlib and Hama, where those conscripts serve", he said.

For this reason, al-Beik said, "the Republican Guard Command has denied leaves of absence for many conscripts who hail from al-Nabek" to avoid further desertion.

In light of the number of desertions, he said, the Syrian regime and town dignitaries have been in contact "to agree on the return of deserters in exchange for not punishing them and ensuring they are not re-deployed to fighting zones".

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