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Social Media Buzz: Rebels Lose a Charismatic Commander in Syria

As part of our collaboration with Syria Deeply we are cross-posting a series of articles that capture civilian voices caught in the crossfire, along with perspectives on the conflict from writers around the world. 

Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. Each week our Mohammed Sergie monitors the online conversation in English and Arabic, pulling out the highlights in a feature called the Social Media Buzz.

Rebels scored a major tactical victory this week, taking control of the Syrian Army’s infantry school north of Aleppo after many weeks of battle. Colonel Yusef al-Jader (alias Abu Furat), a former commander of a Syrian Army tank brigade, was the architect and leader of the operation. He died shortly after sharing observations on winning the battle.

In a buzz-generating YouTube video shown below, Abu Furat is quiet and contemplative, as he’s shown among lively fighters fresh off their victory. When the cameraman in the video asks him about his feelings he said: “I am bothered. These are our tanks and these soldiers are our brothers. I swear to God that every dead human I see from our side or theirs, I feel sad… Because if that bastard (Bashar Al Assad) had resigned, Syria would have been the best country in the world. But you’re holding on to the chair, you bastard, why?”

Abu Furat defected after he received orders to shell a village in Latakia earlier this year. He joined the Islamist Tawheed Brigade, the largest rebel group in Aleppo, and would often pop up in videos from the frontlines, always ready with an uplifting and compassionate message.

Prior to initiating the infantry school battle, he asked parents to call their sons  inside the school and tell them to defect to the rebel side. He even provided two mobile phone numbers to facilitate communications. “We don’t want bloodshed. These are our sons and brothers,” he said, adding that there would be no discrimination in regards to sect or religion. (Hundreds ofsoldiers and officers heeded his call to defect before the final battle).

In previous appearances, Abu Furat, who served in Latakia for two decades, talks about his close ties to the Alawite community and difficult circumstances of soldiers. There was an outpouring of grief on social media networks, and blogs such as Free Halab and Darth Nader delved deep into archives to eulogize Abu Furat.

One of Abu Furat’s final acts was filled with symbolism. The veteran officer got into one of the tanks that he captured from his former comrades, and after a long career of pledging allegiance to Assad, he defiantly taunted Bashar and said: “Didn’t I tell you I was going to enter this school. I told you, but you didn’t believe. Here I am inside the school and now I’m taking your tanks.”

Sheikh Adnan Arour, the Salafi “televangelist” whose popularity and sectarian rhetoric raises many concerns about a post-Assad Syria, caused a stir this week when he said those who refuse to add “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Greatest, to the revolution’s flag are heretics. Activists responded by posting “I am a heretic” on Facebook and Twitter. Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a prominent Syrian writer, joined in and then elaborated on these very real tensions with Islamists in a later post.

A more creative activist responded by switching the stars on the flag with universally loved Syrian objects: a pomegranate, a hookah and shawarma.

As this column is intended to cover the social media activity of all Syrians, this week’s featured item from the pro-Assad side is by Rafiq Lutf. Although he is little known outside of Syria and rarely speaks to foreign press, Lutf has gained a large following among Assad supporters, undoubtedly helped by being given hours of airtime on Syrian state TV to interrogate prisoners and debunk the lies being told about the country.

So who is Lutf? A member of the Arab Journalists Union in America (which doesn’t appear to have any activity other than its association with Lutf). He first appeared on the scene in April 2011, revealing that activists and journalists conspire to organize protests, fabricate videos and attack the police through an online chat room called Paltalk. He receded from view for many months, only to return with a special on the secrets of Baba Amr, where he interviewed and extracted confessions from Ali Othman, an activist who helped foreign journalists cover the besieged neighborhood in Homs.

Lutf also said that a group of CNN journalists were involved in blowing up an oil pipeline in Homs. These days he is devoted to covering the victories of the Syrian army in Aleppo and it’s this work that’s created some buzz this week. Lutf, one of the Assad regime’s most prominent defenders inside Syria, came across the military statistics below.

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