Deserters Attack Syrian Air Force Base, Symbol of Assad and Torture

Free Syrian Army says it can hit "anywhere and any time."

ByABC News
November 16, 2011, 4:36 PM

Nov. 16, 2011 — -- The Syrian government reeled from two blows today, as the members of the Arab League voted to suspend the country, and as defectors from the Syrian military mounted an assault on a military base associated with torture and with the Assad family's long hold on power.

On the 41st anniversary of the military coup that brought Hafez al-Assad to power, the Arab League confirmed its suspension of Syria for failing to comply with calls to end its bloody crackdown on dissent. Arab foreign ministers meeting in Morocco also threatened economic sanctions if the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Hafez's son, does not begin implementing reforms within three days.

More than 3,500 have died since unrest began earlier this year, and the Arab League plans to send human rights monitors to Syria to protect civilians.

Earlier today, members of the "Free Syrian Army," a group of defectors from the regime's armed forces, had launched an attack with RPGs and machine guns on an Air Force intelligence base outside the Syrian capital of Damascus, according to reports.

The Free Syrian Army posted a warning on Facebook after the attack, saying it can "hit anywhere and anytime."

Air Force Intelligence is typically tasked, along with Military Intelligence, with preventing would-be defections from within the Syrian armed forces. Many Syrians associate the base with torture. A recent Human Rights Watch report described torture as "rampant" in Syria.

While activists maintain that the 8-month-long popular uprising has been largely peaceful, today's attack is the most significant sign to date of the rise of an armed insurrection targeting the regime's armed forces. And according to observers, while the army remains mostly loyal to the regime, defections, though mainly restricted to lower level conscripts, are on the rise.

"There is a big number [of defectors], the number increases daily," the commander of the Free Syrian Army, Ryad Al-Asa'ad, told the BBC's Arabic Service from Turkey.

The Syrian government has maintained that protestors are armed gangs sent by outside forces to destabilize the country. It also points to pro-regime protests as proof of the large support Assad still commands among his people.

International media has been barred by the government from accessing Syria, therefore ABC News is unable to independently verify reports by activists.

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