September 3, 2014
A coalition of rebels including Jabhat a-Nusra have captured a series of regime checkpoints protecting the Christian-majority city of Mherda since launching the Badr a-Sham campaign in late July to capture the Hama military airport.
Rebels claim they took three checkpoints south of Hama Wednesday, after ousting the checkpoint and village of Btaish from regime control Monday.
These victories threaten regime-held Mherda, used to launch attacks on surrounding FSA-held territory and a central point along supply lines from the coast to Hama.
If the towns and checkpoints continue to fall, the Hama Media Center’s Abu Yazan a-Naimi tells Mohammad al-Haj Ali, the rebels will have the military airport surrounded.
“The rebels are two kilometers away.”
A town in the northern outskirts of Hama city on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of .
Q: Where is the Btaish checkpoint located? And why is it important to the rebels and the regime?
Btaish is located south of Halfaya [a Nusra-controlled city which falls to the northwest of Hama city] in the northern outskirts of Hama.
As far as the rebels and regime are concerned, Btaish is one of the checkpoints that protects the pro-regime city of Mherda.
The biggest regime checkpoint in the northern outskirts of Hama is Hajiz a-Deir in Mherda.
Q: Why does rebel control over Btaish represent a threat to regime forces in Mherda?
Because it opens up a path for FSA brigades into Mherda.
Btaish is the separating line between Mherda and Halfaya. The FSA already controlled the latter before taking Btaish. When they liberated Btaish, the FSA advanced and took control of the eastern district of Mherda.
But the regime sent reinforcements to Mherda, and the FSA withdrew to the edge of the city. The regime advanced and took Btaish last night [Monday], but the FSA regained control of Btaish and killed 25 regime soldiers and destroyed a BMP armored vehicle.
Q: The battle for the Hama military airport began about a month ago. Have the rebels realized any progress on that front?
The rebels are two kilometers away from the military airport. They bombed the airport with 120mm mortars for the first time in the revolution’s history, and injured some soldiers.
The rebels are launching Grad missile volleys daily, and have frozen activity in the airport by 80 percent.
Q: The regime has intensified its aerial bombing of several locations in Hama. In your opinion, why all this bombing at this time? What are the areas most heavily affected by the bombing, and why?
The bombing aims to repulse the rebel advance towards Hama city and the Hama military airport. The regime is targeting civilians only, especially children—as we saw in Latamnah [northwest of Hama city].
They are also trying to force the rebels to withdraw from Mork. The regime wants to advance towards Mork and Khan Sheikhoun and Hish [villages to the north of Hama city that fall along Aleppo-Latakia supply lines], and in doing so cut off supply lines to Wadi a-Deif and al-Hamidiya [the largest regime encampments in Idlib].
What we’re seeing then is intensified regime bombardment in the outskirts of Hama and Idlib.
Q: What is the importance of the national security building in Sqailbiya [a city in the western outskirts] that was targeted Monday?
I lived in Sqailbiya before the revolution. I know its entrances and exits.
For your information, Sqailbiya is surrounded by a number of pro-regime villages, and it has turned into a Shabiha base in the outskirts of Hama.
The a-Nahl checkpoint is located in Sqailbiya—a huge regime checkpoint. The rebels targeted the state security building because it is a stronghold for the shabiha, and a center for torturing detainees.
It is also considered a center for receiving detainees and transferring them to the Deir Shmail detention center [a regime-controlled village located in western Hama province]
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