(Updates with comments from analyst in seventh paragraph.)
Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Soldiers who left President Bashar al-Assad’s army and set up an opposition force called for a no- fly zone and two buffer areas with international backing as they seek to topple the Syrian government.
The group wants a buffer zone in the north, on the Turkish- Syrian border, and another in the south near the border with Jordan to help them bring the fight closer to Assad, Riad al As’ad, a former Syrian colonel who leads the Free Syrian Army, said in a phone interview from Turkey today.
“Our operations are increasing and we will reach the presidential palace,” As’ad said. “The regime is going to fall. It may take longer if there is no international foreign assistance, but it’s not going to stay. It’s finished.”
The group, using rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, this week assaulted a base near the Syrian capital Damascus linked to air force intelligence, said Ammar al-Wawi, spokesman of the 10-member military council that heads the FSA. The Free Syrian Army also destroyed an armored personnel carrier at a base used by the intelligence agency in the city of Aleppo, he said. Air force intelligence has helped the government put down the protests.
Though no country has yet offered help to the Free Syrian Army, the group “welcomes all assistance,” said As’ad, 50. He said he has a force of more than 25,000 who have been launching targeted attacks against security and intelligence units of the Assad government.
Yesterday, army defectors using rocket-propelled grenades attacked the ruling Baath Party offices housing security agents in the town of Maaret al-Numan, near the border with Turkey, Wawi said in an interview today. An ambush of Assad’s forces left 34 government soldiers dead, pushing the number of people killed on Nov. 14 to as many as 90, according to Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights.
“This force has taken matters to a new level that anti- Assad forces could not before,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. “With the three separate attacks this week, they have raised the ante and are preparing the ground for a no- fly zone, similar to the scenario in Libya, which may have the support of a number of countries.”
The FSA gains 100 to 300 members every time it mounts an attack, As’ad said. The group’s fighters are in the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, the port city of Latakia, the northern province of Idlib, the southern area of Daraa, where the uprising began, in suburbs of the capital Damascus, the city of Aleppo and the central towns of Homs and Hama, all flashpoints in the eight- month conflict.
The growing bloodshed and rising number of casualties led to the creation of the FSA, As’ad said. More than 4,500 protesters have been killed since the unrest broke out, Merei said. Assad has blamed foreign provocateurs and Islamic militants for the violence. Syria says it freed more than 1,700 detained protesters this month.
As’ad said he welcomed the support of the Arab League, which he wants to be “more firm and resolute” toward Assad. He dismissed criticism from the Syrian National Council, which includes secular groups and Islamists in Syria and abroad, that the FSA is acting independently of the council.
“They’re political and have nothing to do with the military,” he said. “The SNC has no clear vision. We have the right to defend ourselves. We have our own strategy independent of politics, we know what needs to take place and we decide what needs to happen and what doesn’t.”
The FSA will “absolutely not” install a military government should the Assad government fall, As’ad said.
“We refuse a military government completely,” he said. “We will not interfere in politics. We are not politicians and won’t allow any sectarian tension to emerge or for any group to be targeted in the future.”
--Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, James Hertling
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