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Rumors of rebel assault stir panic in Hama

The chief of police in Hama city issued an announcement […]

23 April 2015

The chief of police in Hama city issued an announcement on April 13 warning security forces of an upcoming Islamic State attack on the 18th, to be conducted with the help of Jabhat a-Nusra and other “extremist brigades.” The announcement circulated on social media websites over the weekend [for a copy, see al-Arabiya’s coverage here].

After April 18 passed without incident, militiamen with the National Defence Forces began spreading rumors that April 21 was the date of the upcoming attack, Jawwad al-Hamawi, head of the Media Office for the Hama Revolutionaries Union Facebook page tells Syria Direct’s Moutasem Jamal.

While the chief of police’s intentions in drafting the announcement are unclear, al-Homsi thinks that perhaps “the regime wants civilians to rally around it and support it,” noting that “after these rumors circulated some civilians volunteered in the National Defense militias” out of fear.

At the end of the day, such rumors “only serve to negatively impact civilians,” some of whom “began to think about fleeing to other, safer areas.”

Q: Were these rumors intended merely to scare people? What exactly is the goal?

After this rumor circulated some civilians volunteered in the regime’s National Defense militias. Some were unemployed, others were scared for themselves as they were wanted by the rebels, so they picked up arms. Perhaps the regime wants civilians to rally around and support it. But most civilians are afraid of joining the regime’s ranks and picking up arms.

Q: How did the announcement effect civilians’ state of mind inside Hama city? How did they react?

Civilians were scared and began to talk constantly about the decision, especially because the news suggested that the FSA and Nusra intended to liberate the province—news that has not been confirmed. Some people began to store food, and prices went up considerably because of the greed of the large traders, who are close to the regime.

The announcement also decreased the amount of traffic in the city, despite the fact that there’s usually lots of traffic with more than 1.5 million internally displaced persons in Hama city, who have come from all the other cities. Shops began to close their doors in the afternoon, whereas they used to close as night set in. The number of doctors’ appointments decreased, as did surgeries and hospital traffic in general.

Some civilians began to think about fleeing to other, safer areas.

Q: Is this the first time the regime has issued a security announcement like this?

The regime has issued similar announcements previously, but not inside the city of Hama—in the countryside. It happened several times in the city of Helfaya and Taybat al-Imam, according to what activists in the northern countryside told me. They’ve gotten used to these types of rumors, which only serve to negatively impact civilians. The regime [uses the rumors as an excuse] to make things harder for civilians, to increase raids and house searches and detentions.

Q: How did the announcement affect the military situation in Hama city?

After the announcement the regime strengthened the checkpoints located at crossroads and main roads by increasing the number of soldiers, and the intensity of the checks. They ask for personal identities, and search cars thoroughly. There has been a large increase in mobile checkpoints and police stops, which has led to a series of random arrests of young men.

Q: What is the situation like right now, after the date has passed when IS was supposed to attack?

The security intensification is still the same. The Shabiha claim that they expect IS will attack at any moment and there is a general call to arms at the checkpoints. Other rumors have spread among people, the Shabiha were spreading them at the checkpoints that the attack might happen on April 21. Of course it’s all a lie, I talked to media activists with IS and also with the FSA, and they both denied that they wanted to enter Hama city in the near future, or even in the coming months.

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