Jabhat a-Nusra shelled Mhardeh, a regime-controlled city approximately 20km northwest of Hama city, in response to Monday’s arrest of 8 women in the neighboring town of Halfaya, according to a video posted to YouTube by Nusra affiliate Al-Manara Al-Bayda.
“We will not be silent on the matter…[and will continue bombing] until we free our sisters from your prisons and return them safely to their houses,” a Nusra spokesman said in a video on Tuesday.
Pro-regime forces arrested 20 individuals, eight of whom were women, in regime-controlled Halfaya city on Monday, Hasan al-Umari, a correspondent with the pro-opposition Hama Media Center, told Syria Direct on Wednesday, adding that they were individuals who were “close to rebels.”
“Their arrest constitutes a bargaining chip in the hands of the regime that it can use in the negotiations revolving around Zabadani and al-Fuaa,” said al-Umari.
Al-Umari’s account corroborates that of another opposition activist in the Hama countryside, Abu Mahmoud al-Hamawi: “The regime’s motivation to detain women is to trade them in exchanges with the Victory Army.”
Despite violations committed by both sides, a third ceasefire between Victory Army rebels and the Syrian regime is still in effect while negotiations continue to decide the final terms of the deal which also stipulates the evacuation of thousands of fighters and civilians from two Shiite-majority Idlib towns and Zabadani in coming days and weeks.
“Incidents of detentions and kidnappings of women in the Hama countryside is nothing new,” said al-Umari. In one early example in 2012, shabiha in the Hama town of Bisin kidnapped 40 women and children and released them after the Red Crescent intervened and the families of the kidnapped paid large ransoms.