To the cheers and surprise of the people on the street, two truckloads of Syrian soldiers defied orders and joined the demonstrators in northern Syria this week — a mass defection that reveals the key weakness of the Assad regime.
After weeks of being ordered to fire into crowds — more and more soliders don’t want to shoot anymore. Many are defecting and fleeing into Turkey –including a Syrian soldier who spoke with CBS News Wednesday near a refugee camp.
He was ordered, he says, to confront a group of armed protestors outside the strategic town of Dara but found an unarmed crowd full of women and children.
“I didn’t want to fire,” he says, “so I aimed my gun in the air. Some of the other behind me, they did fire.”
Amateur video taped near Dara three weeks ago matches the soldier’s story — with peaceful protestors falling to an army attack and survivors racing to take shelter in an olive grove.
The Syrian soldier told us most of the men in his unit felt betrayed and used by the regime.
“I felt so bad these were women and children,” he says,” I thought I’d shoot myself before I shot them.”
Meanwhile the Assad regime is trying to claim all is well — staging a rally in support of Assad in Damascus — and sending an envoy to Turkey to insist all those frightened refugees will soon be welcomed home.
“Soon they will be returning. We have prepared everything for them, they have started returning,” said a Syrian envoy.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses tell us skirmishes are still being fought in Syria roughly 20 miles south of where we are — and that the Syrian army is massed around several other key towns here in the north but has not moved in.
It’s likely that none of the refugees will be going home anytime soon. CBS News traveled 30 miles north of the border where the Turkish government is making arrangements to receive thousands of more refugees. And crowds are gathering on the Syrian side of the border.