The disillusioned defectors joining Assad's forces

Some of the men ITV News were told had defected from rebel forces Credit: ITV News

They emerged from the shadows of a rubble-strewn street, hands raised and stripped to the waist to ensure they weren’t wearing suicide vests.

But this wasn’t a trap or a staged piece of propaganda. These were defectors from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) who had been besieged for more than a year and had had enough.

We happened to be in the area as the defection was being orchestrated.

It took several hours of negotiation to be allowed to film the moment the fighters lay down their weapons in the silent alley.

The regime forces were nervous about us filming such a sensitive operation and insisted we blurred the faces of the soldiers involved.

The men had been convinced to make the perilous journey across sniper-scrutinised streets over several days by another defector, 33-year-old Mamoun Al Khateeb.

He had become steadily disillusioned by the increasing presence and influence of Islamist forces on the rebel front lines.

Men, he claimed, preached Sharia law, while looting houses, stealing food from civilians and raping women.

We were given hundreds of photos of Khateeb and his former comrades in arms – showing them posing with weapons and the black and green flags associated with Islamist groups like the Al Nusra Front.

They give an astonishing insight into the hidden world of the Islamist rebels a few blocks away from where we had been filming.

Some showed the men prone at sandbag defences, assault rifles in hand.

Others gave clues about how the men are living in the warzone, relaxing with a shisha-pipe, even cooling off in a half-filled swimming pool of a villa.

The defectors are stripped to the waist to ensure they are not carrying bombs Credit: ITV News

Khateeb said numerous foreign fighters had joined the rebels in the area where he had been fighting.

Saudis, Libyans, even German Muslims had flooded to this suburb in recent months. He claimed more than 70 per cent of the rebel gunmen in the suburb were Islamist in their ideology.

He described the streets as a lawless jungle where competing factions fight each other for food, weapons and territory. Before the war he had worked in his family’s shop - a business that had been looted by the Al Nusra Front.

He claimed the weapons supplied to the rebels were smuggled in through Jordan, paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

ITV News correspondent Dan Rivers with the defectors behind him Credit: ITV News

Khateeb appears to be free, but the fate of the other men, whose defection we watched, is less clear.

Officially, the government has offered an amnesty to FSA rebels if they surrender now, but the Islamist fighters are unlikely to enjoy such freedom.

Of course, this fits perfectly with the narrative being pushed by the regime of President Assad, which is keen to go to the Geneva 2 talks this week to talk about controlling terrorism, rather than establishing a transitional authority, which excludes the President.

Read the latest on the Syrian peace talks

But there is no doubt that the Syrian uprising, which started in March 2011 as an eruption of dissatisfaction against Assad, has now descended into a civil war involving a mosaic of rebel factions, in places pitched against each other.

It’s also clear that it will take more than a handful of defections to end the bloody stalemate that is grinding inexorably towards a fourth year of war in Syria.

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