BEIRUT: A poorly armed group of some 500 Syrian army defectors have fled into Lebanon using old smuggling routes, the Washington Post reported Monday.
The prominent newspaper quoted one Syrian army defector in the border area of Akkar saying that there "were about 500 defected soldiers in north Lebanon, working with about 200 on the other side of the border."
The defected soldiers also noted that if there was a safe zone in which they could find refuge, large numbers of the army would desert their posts.
In early December, Free Syrian Army chief Riyadh al-Asaad called on the international community to establish a no-fly zone, a buffer zone and conduct strikes on regime targets in an interview with AFP.
Syrian soldiers in Lebanon are receiving commands from Asaad, who currently leads the FSA from southern Turkey, via a commanding officer, according to the paper.
The U.S.-based daily said that all of the Syrian defectors are Sunni Muslims who have limited access to weapons.
“The arms we have are what we defected with, or things that we steal from the other side,” one defector told the paper.
"All of the soldiers who had gathered in the Lebanese mountains said they were from the town of Tal Kalakh. They had been deployed across the country, but all fled to their home town when they defected," the paper said.
The town of Tal Kalakh is located 5 kilometers away from the border with Lebanon.
However, reports have indicated that due to the security measures on the border by both the Syrian and Lebanese armies, the flow of people crossing over from Syria to Lebanon has declined.
The soldiers expressed frustration with the work of the Arab League observers in Syria, whose mission began two weeks ago to monitor President Bashar Assad’s implementation of an Arab plan aimed at ending the crisis, which the U.N. says has resulted in the killing of over 5,000 Syrians, mostly civilians.
However, Damascus says “armed gangs” are responsible for the death of civilians, saying activities of these groups aim to bring down the government of Assad as part of foreign-backed conspiracy.