“Civilians have formed the bulk of the FSA since the beginning,” Mr. Salem said. “It is led by officers and some [soldiers who defected], but most of the fighters are civilians. Every Syrian male has been through military training, which is bad news for the regime.”
As fighting continued for a fifth consecutive day in the capital, opposition activists said that government troops have been using mortars, tanks and helicopter gunships in an effort to rid the city and its suburbs of the rebels. The violence has claimed at least 17,000 lives, according to most estimates.
Despite apparent signs of coordinated operations, analysts say, the rebel army is far from unified and lacks any form of central command. As growing numbers of civilians take up arms, even some rebel fighters are wary of the chaos that could follow Mr. Assad’s downfall.
“We have made [records] of the names of villagers with weapons, what they have, their address, and how much ammunition they have,” said a guerrilla in Idlib identified only as Osama.
As the battle drags on in the capital and around the country, the outcome for the people of Syria remains unclear.
“We’re just waiting for freedom, but we’re not scared anymore,” said Abu Issa, the father of an FSA soldier, speaking in Idlib. “God is with us, and our children are fighting.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports. Ashish Kumar Sen reported from Washington, Louise Osborne from Berlin and Bradley Secker from Idlib, Syria.
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