3 min read  | Hama, Interviews, Politics

Moderate rebels face Islamic State, regime in Hama


August 25, 2014

August 25, 2014

Hama has emerged as one of the most active in the Syrian war this month after rebels began targeting the Hama Military Airport, located just west of the eponymous capital.

Last week the rebels captured the town of Um Khareeza east of Hama city, and shelled the nearby town of Sheiha, located just north of the airport, with missile fire in their push towards the airport.

The military airport is “where the planes leave from to bomb Aleppo,” Liwa at-Tawhid commander Munther al-Hassan tells Austin Bodetti. If the rebels fail to take the airport, it could tip the balance in the regime’s favor in Syria’s largest city to the north.

The fate of Hama and Aleppo are one, says the Liwa at-Tawhid commander: “If Hama falls [to the regime], Aleppo will fall.”

Austin Bodetti is an entering freshman in the Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College studying the Syrian civil war, with a focus on the Islamic State. Translation by Syria Direct’s Brent Eng.

Q: Why are the revolutionaries focusing on Hama province?

The Hama Military Airport is the third most important airport in Syria in terms of strength and location. Freeing Hama or its airport will be a severe blow for the regime and the sectarian support for Assad in the Hama countryside, where there is the largest gathering of Alawites [in Syria] outside the coast.

Hamafighter What rebels claim is an attack on Hama airport. Photo courtesy of @Eldorar1.

Q: What is the relationship between the different militant factions in Hama, such as Jabhat al-Islam, Jabhat a-Nusra, Soldiers of Sham, and others?

The relationship between the factions is good. The groups in the Hama countryside are moderate.

Q: Why are Hama city and this airport such high-value targets?

If the Hama airport or Hama city falls to rebels, there would be revolutionaries at the gates of Homs just afterwards because the north countryside of Homs, such as Rastan and Telbeseya, is liberated [rebel-controlled].

Q: How is the attack on Hama preventing regime efforts to take the city of Aleppo?

With regard to the siege of Aleppo and Wadi Deif, the majority of the support that the regime sends is from Hama and the airplanes leave from the Hama Airport to bomb Aleppo.

If Hama falls, Aleppo will fall.

Q: How have the anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry affected the battle for the airport? Who distributed these weapons?

The “anti” weapons are very important in advancing but there are only a few.

They have caused the Free Syrian Army to advance in this area. Pilots refuse to fly in the Hama countryside because they fear the anti-aircraft weaponry.

We don’t know where some of the brigades get their weapons; perhaps from the black market, but the rest arrived from the checkpoints and military barracks after they were captured. The majority of the “anti” weapons we got were from a military warehouse.

Q: How will the ammunition and weapons in the Hama airport, if taken by the rebels, support their future operations in the province?

The Hama airport contains plenty of equipment and weapons. If we take it, we would [use] half to fight Bashar Assad and the other half to fight the Islamic State

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