DAY 285 - DECEMBER 30, 2011


Today 500,000 protesters have gathered around Syria, the largest in the history of the conflict. With the situation in Syria intensifying daily, Barbara Walters interviews Bashar Al Assad for US television station, ABC News. In the interview, Assad attests that he is neither responsible for the government crackdown nor guilty of human rights violations. More soldiers from the Syrian army continue to defect to FSA forces around the country and the UN formally announces that approximately 5,000 people have died during the uprising.

You and Jeremy have been living with the Sham Falcon Brigade, a group of moderate Sunni rebels, for two months. At the Bab Al Hawa crossing the Syrian authorities have stopped letting vehicles with Turkish plates cross into Syria. You are lucky you made it in when you did. But it also means it is going to be hard to get out. You spend Christmas with Tarek (your dubious fixer) and the Falcons in the city of Idlib where you tell them about the West's cultural customs surrounding Christmas. You bond with the fighters over the importance of family, especially during the holidays. You know that it was a family affair that caused most of the fighters to take up arms in the first place. Somewhere down the line, Assad hurt one of their brothers and they, the rebels, are trying to avenge them. You learn that the FSA is very much centered around enlisting on the local and neighborhood level. In one way this fragments the brigades but in another, it keeps each group of fighters closer. Most of the time they've known each other from childhood. You meet one fighter named Mousa--or as the Falcon's call himThe Iraqi--who is an interesting case. Mousa came over from Iraq after his cousin and brother were killed at a protest in Daraa, at the beginning of the revolution. He is only 18 but has the heart of a champion. He speaks little English but you're always surprised how much you can communicate without language. Your haptic skills at this point have gotten very good. You have been trying to file stories about the regular people on the ground in Syria rather than the most recent protest or the bloodshed or the body count. Your editors hate this. For the most part it doesn't bring page views and therefore isn't relevant to them. You don't care. They aren't paying you enough to compromise what you find to be the most compelling.