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Middle East

Foreign states fund first pay day for Aleppo rebels

  • A Syrian rebel commander gestures before distributing the salaries of rebels in dollars.

ALEPPO, Syria: After months of fighting without pay, Syrian rebels in Aleppo are receiving their first salaries, paid with money commanders say is at least in part provided by foreign states.

In Aleppo’s old city area, fighters gave their names to defected Syrian military officer Colonel Abdel-Salam Humaidi, who searched through lists provided by rebel commanders before paying the men in crisp $100 bills.

The rebels made thumbprints in ink next to their names to indicate they had been paid.

As the fighters gathered, the crack of gunfire could be heard from elsewhere in the old city, just one of many areas in Syria’s capital that have become battlegrounds between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebels fighting to overthrow his regime.

“The revolutionary military councils ... are undertaking to distribute monthly salaries to the fighters, especially on the front lines,” Humaidi told AFP.

All fighters are now paid $150 per month, but this may change in the future, with different salaries given to those who are married and those who are on the front lines, he said.

Humaidi said he “defected from the military after 30 years of service, because the regime is corrupt and sectarian.” He is now a financial official for the Revolutionary Military Council.

He declined to say where the payroll cash was from, but rebel commanders in Aleppo told AFP it came from foreign assistance and from other supporters, though they differed on the specific countries involved.

“The Military Council [is] distributing the salaries, with Qatari support ... of $150 per person registered for two months,” said Haji al-Bab, a commander in the Tawhid Brigade, adding that fighters who are not registered are not being paid.

Ahmad Arur, a commander in the Suqur al-Sham Brigade, said that “international assistance [and] Syrian opposition traders are paying the salaries for the Free Army.”

And Sheikh Mahmud Mujadami, a commander from the Halab al-Shahbaa Brigade, said sources of the money include “Turkey, from the Gulf states, from ... Islamic states,” and the Association of Muslim Scholars.

For the fighters battling the Assad regime’s heavy weapons with light arms for which they sometimes even lack ammunition, the money has been a long time coming.

“We obtained salaries in the amount of $150, and we will use it for pocket money and for the family, for the house,” said Mohammad Nasser, who has fought for six months unpaid. He is married and has a son, but his family was able to get by with aid they received in Turkey. Now, they are back in Syria.

Ahmad Shawaf said he was a fighter for five months without a salary, and that while this did not personally cause his family hardship, there are “many difficulties” for a person who is “the only one working, and he stops his work because of the revolution.”

He said that individual battalion commanders can decide to give fighters assistance.

Hussein Rustum defected from the police about three months ago, losing his salary. “I was depending on the salary for my family, [but] thank God, here in the Tawhid Brigade we do not need anything, food, we receive everything,” he said.

Rebel forces helped his family during the time he served without pay. He said there were “difficulties, but thank God, the Free Army and the guys provided housing.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 23, 2012, on page 8.
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