BEIRUT: The first army defector from the southern province of Swaida was declared dead Wednesday, after having led a battle against regime forces earlier in the month.
The Facebook page of the Revolutionary Military Council for Swaida said that Khaldoun Zeineddine, the leader of the Sultan Pasha al-Atrash Battalion of the Free Syrian Army, had been “martyred,” along with an undisclosed number of his comrades.
The battle took place in the region of Dahr al-Jabal near Swaida, a majority-Druze province. Syrian State Television had earlier declared Zeineddine dead, but aired footage of the battle that was disputed by anti-regime activists because the images had been used in a report on rebel casualties in another, earlier battle.
The R.M.C. has advised the public that its Facebook page should be considered the only authoritative source of information on rebel activities in Swaida.
Facebook pages representing activists in Swaida paid tribute to the late Zeineddine as a tireless supporter of the uprising.
A source familiar with the issue told The Daily Star that Zeineddine defected in Damascus in the fall of 2011, and joined up with anti-regime rebels in the Ghouta region near the capital.
Shortly afterward, Zeineddine relocated to the southern province of Hawran, which borders Swaida, and formed an F.S.A. battalion bearing the name of the Druze leader of the 1925 Syrian revolt against France.
“Most of his activity with the rebels was in the Hawran region,” the source said. “His reason for defecting was simply that he had been ordered to fire on civilian protesters.”
The news item published on the Facebook page was accompanied by a short YouTube video of Zeineddine’s brother, Fadl, also a first lieutenant who defected from the army, who read the announcement.
Fadl Zeineddine said the battle on Jan. 11 represented the “beginning of battles to liberate this province,” and also addressed the people of Swaida.
“Our battle is with the criminal regime, and you are not a party to [this battle]. We advise you to not stand in our way, but rather aid us, as we confront this tyrant,” he said. “Do not aid the regime as it seeks to stoke sectarianism.”
“Our revolution is for all Syrians, and for all [religious] sects,” he concluded.
The Druze-majority province has been relatively quiet throughout the Syrian uprising, while it has also hosted thousands of displaced people from other provinces, especially Hawran.