Nine questions for the Syrian rebel commander entrusted with the first U.S. missiles of the war

Earlier this month, videos broadcast on YouTube showed Syrian rebels using U.S.-made TOW missiles for the first time. The Washington Post's Beirut Bureau Chief Liz Sly went to Syria to meet with Harakat Hazm, a newly formed group that has the weapons. Here are some translated excerpts from her interview with the group's commander, Abdullah Awda.

Liz Sly: Who provided the weapons?

Abdullah Awda: These weapons came from countries that are friends of Syria. These American weapons, coming from friendly countries, are a positive sign that the United States is allowing the "Friends of Syria" to support us. These missiles are available in the countries of the [Persian] Gulf, they are available in Libya. The Americans have a long list of countries that they sell weapons to.


Recruits with the Harakat Hazm movement perform drills at their headquarters. (Liz Sly/The Washington Post)

LS: Why was Harakat Hazm chosen to receive these weapons?

AA: Our work is very well organized, that's why we were picked. The"Friends of Syria" won't allow the regime to be overthrown unless there is a replacement body that can fill the vacuum. We are a military movement capable of toppling the regime, protecting citizens and their property, and filling the void after the regime falls.

LS: What effect will these weapons have on the battlefield?

AA: That will depend on the quantity of weapons that will be provided to our movement. If the number of missiles is high, then we can accomplish victories. If the support is limited, we will not.

LS: What are the politics of Harakat Hazm?

AA: Harakat Hazm does not work under the influence of politics. We are not aligning ourselves with any political party. We have a nationalistic, unifying mission to include all the Syrian people, with their different backgrounds, in a military movement that will serve as the basis of a future army.


Rebels maneuver a military vehicle captured from the Syrian army at the base of Harakat Hazm,. (Liz Sly/The Washington Post)

LS: What kind of government does Harakat Hazm want Syria to have in the future?

AA: That is something for the Syrian people to decide. We are military people. Our goal is toppling the regime.

LS: What kind of government do you want?

AA: I want a democratic state that rules over all of Syria with equality and freedom for all citizens, free of fascism and dictatorship.

LS: What role should Islam play?

AA: That is something we have no say in. Of course, any government will have to take laws from Islam, be inspired by Islam, because. at the end of the day, Islam is the religion of the country and the religion of most of its people. Thus, the government should consider Islam as a source, but the true, moderate Islam.


Abdullah Awda heads the Harakat Hazm rebel group. (Liz Sly//The Washington Post)

LS: You have already participated in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. What are your relations with Jabhat al-Nusra?

AA: Jabhat al-Nusra is a military formation, a fighting battalion that exists on the ground like any other. We have no strong or meaningful relationship with them. They fight on their fronts, and we fight on ours.

LS: What do you think of them?

AA: They hold responsibility for bringing ISIS fighters to Syria from across the world. This was a mistake committed against the Syrian people. I think of them as a group of people fighting to topple the regime, but if they change their ideology to resemble that of ISIS or bring death and destruction upon the Syrian people, then we won't allow it.

Our first and foremost enemy is Bashar al-Assad. After the toppling of the regime, the Syrian people will choose the form of their government. If it is a democratic one, we will welcome it. If it is Islamic, we will welcome it as well. We are subject to the will of the people, and we work only for the sake of the will of the people. We started this revolution for freedom, therefore we will stand in the way of anyone who prevents the people from achieving freedom. That would be a mistake, it would be unacceptable, and if I allowed it, I would be no different than Bashar al-Assad.

Learn more about the missiles here.

Terri Rupar is The Post's mobile product editor.
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