That seems to have spurred even more rebel recruitment as friends or family of those killed or jailed by the government decide to join the guerrillas. New groups of rebels post videos online regularly announcing their formation.
Ahmed, who described himself as a member of a special operations unit who had volunteered for military duty, was interviewed in the city of Idlib. Mazen agreed to talk at a checkpoint outside the city. Neither expressed any sympathy for the rebels. “The intelligence services know their names and they will be killed,” Mazen said.
Ahmed and other soldiers denied that they had ever opened fire on peaceful protests, but they readily acknowledged that members of their units had defected and that they had killed army defectors when they were located.
“Four months ago, the commander of our unit defected and started an armed group,” Ahmed said, using a term the government uses to refer to the rebels.
Ahmed said that on Tuesday morning, a group of as many as 50 fighters attacked a checkpoint on the road into Idlib and detonated a bomb as reinforcements arrived. He said that two soldiers were wounded and six rebels killed.
Ahmed and other soldiers in Idlib said there had been explosions in the city on Monday, when Syrians voted for a new Parliament.
“Many people didn’t vote because they were afraid,” Ahmed said.
Supporters of the anti-Assad uprising called for a boycott of the vote and said it was observed in many areas. In some places, polls didn’t open at all. Both sides have accused each other of threatening people who refused to go to the polls or supported the boycott.
Mazen listed nine towns and villages in the area around Idlib where soldiers were unable to go. He said the pace of attacks had remained steady for months as the army continued its campaign against the rebels.
Idlib itself, a city of about 150,000, was out of government control for months before the Syrian military retook it in March. Despite a heavy military presence here, attacks have continued, including a car bombing that destroyed a six-story building in late April.
Ahmed said the violence in Syria amounted to a civil war. Asked about the motivations of the men they were fighting, Ahmed said that the rebels wanted to destabilize Syria. He did not repeat government claims, however, that many of the rebels are foreigners, and most of the soldiers agree that the opponents they face are Syrian.
The Syrian government news agency, SANA, reported that three members of the military killed by rebels were buried on Wednesday. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that more than 11,000 people have been killed in the past 14 months, the majority of them civilians.