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In one Syrian town, full-throated cries of defiance

By Ivan Watson and Kareem Khadder, CNN
updated 11:39 AM EST, Fri February 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Binnish is an opposition-held village
  • Friday demonstrations have unfolded for months
  • One man says, 'We will fight, even with knives'

Binnish, Syria (CNN) -- Hundreds of men and boys kneeled on the floor of a packed mosque for Friday prayers, but the solemn religious rite quickly turned into a furious rain-soaked rally denouncing Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.

Before completing their prayers, the congregation murmured words of condolences for a resident of this small opposition-held village, Muhamed Hasmus.

Activists say Hasmus was killed Friday morning by a sniper in the nearby city of Idlib, an account CNN could not independently confirm.

The remembrance of their neighbor caused the faithful to jump to their feet and erupt with the chant "Allahu Akbar," which means God is great.

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They repeated their full-throated chants as they marched from the mosque to the village square in a pounding, freezing rainstorm.

They unfurled banners, waved the opposition green, black and white flag, and conducted a ritual of defiance that has been repeated weekly in this opposition enclave for months.

"Our first demonstration was on April 1st," Ibrahim Qobani told CNN. "I have never missed a single demonstration since."

The 19-year-old Qobani led the latest demonstration in Binnish, which has been experimenting with self-rule.

He stood on a rooftop with a microphone, dressed in a scarf and fingerless gloves knit with the colors of the opposition flag, and sang verses insulting the Syrian president.

"This is a tool for us to show the world that we need support," he said. "During the week when I'm talking to the guys (opposition activists) over the internet, I think about what to chant on Friday."

This week, Qobani introduced new lyrics to protest songs.

He replaced the word "hurriye," which means freedom, which made up the chorus of a popular Syrian protest song, with the word "harbiye," which means 'war.'

"We were peaceful for ten months But now there is no other solution. We will fight, even with knives," said 21-year-old university student who only wanted his first name Hussam published, for security reasons.

Wearing an opposition scarf around his forehead, Hussam had little positive to say about the U.N. General Assembly's non-binding resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for al-Assad to step down.

Map: Syria  Map: Syria
Map: SyriaMap: Syria

"We didn't watch real action from the United Nations and all the world actually. They are just speeches, they do not help us," he said.

One of the protest organizers had kinder words for the U.N. resolution.

"It sends a strong message to Damascus and to Russia and China that the world is against the Assad regime," said Ala Edien Hamdoun, who leads the local opposition council's public relations committee.

Hamdoun said he was well aware that the latest diplomatic broadside against Damascus would do little protect this small, defiant community should the Syrian military mount an all-out assault.

Just a few kilometers away, within sight of Binnish, the Syrian government flag flies in the heart of the city of Idlib, the capital of Idlib province.

Opposition fighters have raised the rebel flag just a few hundred yards from the government banner, which is also visible in the city center.

Heavy machine gun fire from Idlib periodically echoes across the countryside, and tracer bullets can be seen arcing out of the city at night.

Binnish residents say the Syrian army maintains a base about five minutes away from their village's central square.

Leaders of the rebellion in Binnish say the army doubled the number of tanks at that base over the last 24 hours. That deployment raised fears of a possible imminent attack on this opposition enclave.

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