September 2, 2014
By Dan Wilkofsky and Osama Abu Zeid
AMMAN: Jabhat a-Nusra captured a third checkpoint in as many weeks on Monday in Hama province in a bid to take Christian-majority Mherda city, a regime stronghold used to launch attacks on surrounding FSA-held territory and a central point along supply lines from the coast to Hama.
The capture of the Btaish checkpoint and the eponymous village just beyond it “represents a great danger to regime forces in the city of Mherda,” Hasan al-Hamawi, a spokesman for the pro-opposition Hama Media Office told Syria Direct on Tuesday.
Abu Yazn a-Naimi, a media activist also with the Hama Media Center, said that Btaish in rebel hands means “an open road for FSA battalions into the city of Mherda.”
Btaish falls roughly 5km east of Mherda.
Rebel forces led by Nusra took control of the eastern district of Mherda August 23, but withdrew nearly a week later, after the regime sent reinforcements to the city and shelled the rebels from the direction of Btaish.
Rebel operations in Btaish and Mherda are part of the greater Badr a-Sham campaign, announced by several brigades—including Jabhat a-Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham, and Harakat Hazm—on July 25, which aims to capture the Hama military airport, a launching point for air raids across the province and a barrel bomb factory.
The capture of Btaish is one of a string of victories rebels have realized in the Badr a-Sham campaign as they inch closer to the airport from multiple fronts.
Since the beginning of the campaign, “rebels struck the airport with mortars for the first time in the revolution's history,” says a-Naimi, adding that “they are targeting [the airport] daily with Grad missile volleys.”
The regime has responded in kind, summoning elite reinforcements to the region and intensifying its aerial bombardment of surrounding locales.