August 28, 2014
The battle for the central Syrian province of Hama intensified this month with the Badr a-Sham campaign, led by Jabhat a-Nusra, to take the Hama Military Airport.
The rebels began to capture regime checkpoints and cut off the supply routes connecting Hama city and the nearby military airport from the rest of the province.
Now, rumors are circulating that the leader of a-Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, is personally leading the attack on the northern Hama town of Mherda, one of the many regime-controlled areas the rebels are attempting to cut off from the provincial capital.
As many as 1,500 Nusra fighters are storming Mherda, and have already gained the eastern part of the town, according to the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The larger goal remains the Hama Military Airport, the base for the relentless airstrikes on rebel-held areas in the north, east and south of Hama province. Taking the airport would remove the air cover protecting regime-held areas and pave the way for rebels to capture those villages west of the provincial capital.
“The rebels are trying advance towards the airport…on multiple fronts,” Diab Ahmed, a 24-year-old journalist with the pro-opposition Syria News Office in Outer Hama tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali.
“Rebels are targeting the airport daily with mortar shells and missiles,” Ahmed says, thereby reducing its capacity already by 50 percent. It is a claim reported in the pro-opposition media that could not be independently verified.
Here, Ahmed explains why the airport is the linchpin in winning the province.
Q: What are the latest updates from the Hama Military Airport? Has the FSA made progress?
Rebels are trying to advance toward Hama Military Airport on multiple fronts. One of the fronts now is the Sharaya village [a pro-regime village located four kilometers from the airport]. The other front is on the Sheiha Hill side, which is three kilometers from the airport. In addition, the rebels have made progress from Kafr al-Ton [a largely Muslim town located on southern end of the Hama-Mherda Highway, about seven kilometers from the airport].
Rebels are targeting the Hama Military Airport daily with mortar shells and Grad missiles, and the airport has been reduced to only 50 percent capacity as reported by opposition sources.
Q: Why are the rebels focusing on the airport now?
Hama Military Airport is considered one of the most important military bases in the province for the regime because it launches most of its airstrikes from it, which in turn target rebel-held towns and villages in Hama.
The regime also sends military convoys from the airbase to the conflict areas, especially Mourek village [northern Hama], where there has been fighting for more than seven months.
Q: Is the Islamic State present in Hama?
Yes, IS is in east Hama province on outskirts of Selmiya city [Selmiya, an Ismaili-majority town, is located on the road between Hama and Raqqa. It is considered a pro-regime town]. They have been there for more than five months and fighting Assad’s forces.
Rebel fighters attempt to capture Mherda. Photo courtesy of @Hama-Jn.
Q: What is the Sheiha Hill? Why it is important?
The Sheiha Hill lies between Khatab town and Sheiha village. It’s located two kilometers from Hama Military Airport. There is fighting there every day and on [August 25], rebels managed to cut the supply road to the hill, in addition to killing several soldiers.
Q: Videos show that rebels have new anti-aircraft weapons. Where did rebels get these weapons from? How will these weapons affect the fight?
There are anti-aircraft weapons like FN missiles, which the rebels received from the FSA Chief of Staff, in addition to anti-shield TOW missiles, which are crucial to destroying regime armored vehicles.
Q: What is the position of civilians and rebel groups in Hama towards IS?
Civilians greatly fear the presence of IS in the area.
The rebel battalions will fight IS wherever they encounter them.
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