Syrian immigrants in Bulgaria hold a photo showing the bodies of men, women, and children allegedly killed in a chemical attack east of Damascus as they protest against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the use of chemical weapons in front of the Syrian Embassy in Sofia. (Photo credit: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)
Nuha Shaaban and Jacob Wirtschafter, Special for USA TODAY
AMMAN, Jordan - Strong military intervention from the West is what is needed to stop the Syrian military from wiping out civilians and rebel fighters, a commander of the Free Syrian Army told USA TODAY.
The rebels could then take advantage of the attack and there would be no need for Western troops to arrive on the ground, said commander Abdulbasit Sa-ad al-Dein.
"Directing strikes to the regime locations and military points like ballistic missiles launchers and air bases, to prevent random civilian killing," would be most effective, said al-Dein, president of the joint staff of the unified forces in Aleppo, Syria.
"But it's not good with ground military intervention," he said.
Al-Dein defected from the Syrian army in June 2012 to join the FSA, the rebel army, which has factions based across the country. The FSA is largely made up of former members of Assad's military and has established itself in cities such as Aleppo and in Homs, where the rebellion against dictator Bashar Assad started more than two years ago.
STORY: Syria defies claims on chemical weapons
The FSA has seen some success, taking areas of Syria and grinding the Assad military down to a stalemate in some cities. But Assad has used punishing air raids and tank artillery to destroy whole sections of cities, reducing some to rubble.
Despite taking losses, the Syrian military has replenished its troops with fighters from its ally Iran and from Hezbollah, the anti-Israel terrorist group based in southern Lebanon. Assad is also receiving arms from Russia.
Some commanders of the FSA are working with al-Qaeda-linked fighter groups that have streamed into the battle from foreign countries.The FSA has refused to denounce them because they are helping them fight, but it is one reason the United States has said it is wary of arming the factions too heavily.
However, the FSA says it cannot stand up to Assad's heavy armor and air force bombings, and need help soon with a Western-implemented no-fly zone like the one established to help remove Moammar Gadhafi from power in Libya in 2011.
Al-Dein said he believes Assad's regime used chemical weapons to force the West to intervene at the request of its patron, Iran.
"The regime in Syria is only a tool in the hands of Iran and its supporters in the region," he said.
"Because of the strong hits from the FSA against them and to save face, Iran gave orders for this criminal, Assad, to use chemical weapons so that the West will intervene to end the crisis in Syria because Iran was exhausted financially, economically and from human capita and can't continue supporting the regime in this war."
He said many believe the West would want to intervene for many reasons.
"It's considered as a port for all continents in the world and has one of the strongest economies in the Arab world because it has petroleum, agriculture, tourism and industries," he added.