Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recruited a brigade of women to staff checkpoints and carry out security operations as he attempts to free up soldiers in his beleaguered army to fight the rebels.
Dressed in fatigues and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, the female recruits, the "Lionesses for National Defence", are part of a new paramilitary force.
They have already been deployed in Homs, where they have been spotted guarding areas where residents still largely support the regime. Videos from both opposition and pro-government sites purport to show members of the all-female unit in action.
The women are part of the recently formed National Defence Force (NDF), which appears to be a key component of the Syrian state's counter insurgency strategy.
The regime is struggling to gain the upper hand in the street battles that have devastated large areas of the country's cities and killed thousands of its soldiers. Rebels are holed up in several neighbourhoods of Homs and the capital's southern suburbs.
Abu Rami, a spokesman for the Syrian Revolution General Commission in Homs, first saw the female recruits about five days ago at Tadmour Circle on the outskirts of an Alawite area, before another activist returned to film them. The shaky video shows about half a dozen armed women guarding a major intersection.
"I was very surprised, it's the first time we have seen this," he said.
"I think it's an excuse to make the FSA [Free Syrian Army] kill women and then show the world as propaganda, but anyone with a weapon is a legitimate target."
He said the women were also seen in the Wadi al-Dahab area, where about 500 recruits are reported to be receiving training at a military base.
A video uploaded on to a pro-regime YouTube channel at the beginning of the month shows about a hundred women marching in front of a portrait of the President. The NDF, which includes male recruits, is expected to have 10,000 members.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims it will also include an elite fighting force trained by Iran. The Islamic Republic, a staunch ally of Damascus, has admitted its Quds Force is helping the Syrian regime in an advisory role.