05/17/2013 - #Syria - Hama Outskirts - FSA captures ammunition from Assad forces
Rebels began to push into a strategic town in Syria’s central Hama province on Thursday and laid siege to at least one town dominated by President Bashar al-Assad’s minority sect, activists said.
The operation risks inflaming already raw sectarian tensions as the 21-month-old revolt against four decades of Assad family rule - during which the president’s Alawite sect has dominated leadership of the Sunni Muslim majority - rumbles on.
Opposition sources said rebels had won some territory in the strategic southern town of Morek and were surrounding the Alawite town of al-Tleisia.
They were also planning to take the town of Maan, arguing that the army was present there and in al-Tleisia and was hindering their advance on nearby Morek, a town on the highway that runs from Damascus north to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and another battleground in the conflict.
“The rockets are being fired from there, they are being fired from Maan and al-Tleisia, we have taken two checkpoints in the southern town of Morek. If we want to control it then we need to take Maan,” said a rebel captain in Hama rural area, who asked not to be named.
Activists said heavy army shelling had targeted the town of Halfaya, captured by rebels two days earlier. Seven people were killed, 30 were wounded, and dozens of homes were destroyed, said activist Safi al-Hamawi.
Hama is home to dozens of Alawite and Christian villages among Sunni towns, and activists said it may be necessary to lay siege to many minority areas to seize Morek. Rebels want to capture Morek to cut off army supply lines into northern Idlib, a province on the northern border with Turkey where rebels hold swathes of territory.
From an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, Alawites have largely stood behind Assad, many out of fear of revenge attacks. Christians and some other minorities have claimed neutrality, with a few joining the rebels and a more sizeable portion of them supporting the government out of fear of hardline Islamism that has taken root in some rebel groups.
Activists in Hama said rebels were also surrounding the Christian town of al-Suqeilabiya and might enter the city to take out army positions as well as those of “shabbiha” - pro-Assad militias, the bulk of whom are usually Alawite but can also include Christians and even Sunnis.
“We have been in touch with Christian opposition activists in al-Suqeilabiya and we have told them to stay downstairs or on the lowest floor of their building as possible, and not to go outside. The rebels have promised not to hurt anyone who stays at home,” said activist Mousab al-Hamdee, speaking by Skype.
He said he was optimistic that potential sectarian tensions with Christians could be resolved but that Sunni-Alawite strife may be harder to suppress.
Rebels thrust into a strategic town in Syria’s central Hama province on Thursday, activists said, pursuing a string of territorial gains to help cut army supply lines and cement a foothold in the capital Damascus to the south.
They have made a series of advances across the country, seizing several military installations and more heavy weaponry, hardening the threat to President Bashar al-Assad’s power base in Damascus 21 months into an uprising against his rule.
Rebels said a day earlier they had captured at least six towns in Hama province. On Thursday heavy fighting erupted in Morek, a town on the highway that runs from Damascus north to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and another battleground.
The opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels were trying to take checkpoints in Morek, one of which they had already seized, and described the town as a critical position for the Syrian army.
“The town of Morek lies on the Damascus-Aleppo road … it has eight checkpoints and two security and military headquarters. If the rebels were able to control the town they would completely sever the supply lines between Hama and Damascus to Idlib province,” the group said in an email.
Idlib is in the rebel-dominated north bordering on Turkey.
The British-based Observatory has a network of activists across the country. Activist reports are difficult to verify, as the government restricts media access into Syria.
Fighting in Hama could aggravate Syria’s sectarian strife as it is home to many rural minority communities of Alawites and Christians. Minorities, and particularly the Alawite sect to which Assad himself belongs, have largely backed the president. Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority has been the engine of the revolt.
“Rebels are trying to take Mohardeh and al-Suqaylabiya, which are strongholds of the regime and are strategic. The residents are Christian and the neighboring towns are Alawite. The rebels worry security forces may be arming people there,” said activist Safi al-Hamawi, speaking on Skype.
He said the opposition feared skirmishes that had previously been largely Sunni-Alawite could spread into a broader sectarian conflict.
“I think it is still unlikely, because the residents have tried to maintain neutrality, but if the battle became a sectarian clash, it could be a catastrophe. Christians and Muslims could suddenly find themselves enemies.”
U.N. human rights investigators said on Thursday that Syria’s conflict was becoming more “overtly sectarian”, with more civilians seeking to arm themselves and foreign fighters - mostly Sunnis - flocking in from 29 countries.
“They come from all over, Europe and America, and especially the neighboring countries,” said Karen Abuzayd, one of U.N. investigators, told a news conference in Brussels.
The deepened sectarian divisions may diminish prospects for post-conflict reconciliation even if Assad is ousted, and the influx of foreigners raises the risk of fighting spilling into neighboring countries riven by similar communal fault lines.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Assad’s main ally and arms supplier, warned that any solution to the conflict must ensure government and rebel forces do not merely swap roles and fight on forever. It appeared to be his first direct comment on the possibility of a post-Assad Syria.
The West and some Arab states accuse Russia of shielding Assad after Moscow blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to increase pressure on Damascus to end the violence, which has killed more than 40,000 people. Putin said the Syrian people would ultimately decide their own fate.
FIGHTS FOR DAMASCUS CAMP
Assad’s forces have been hitting back at rebel advances with bouts of heavy shelling, particularly along the eastern ring of suburbs outside Damascus, where rebels are dominant.
A Syrian security source said the army was planning heavy offensives in northern and central Syria to stem rebel advances, but there was no clear sign of such operations yet.
Rebels seized the Palestinian refugee district of Yarmouk earlier this week, which put them within 3 km (2 miles) of downtown Damascus. Heavy shelling and fighting forced thousands of Palestinian and Syrian residents to flee the Yarmouk area.
But rebels said on Thursday they were negotiating to put the camp - actually a densely packed urban district - back into the hands of pro-opposition Palestinian fighters. There are some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in Syria, and they have been divided by the uprising.
Palestinian factions, some backed by the government and others by the rebels, had begun fighting last week, a development that allowed Syrian insurgents to take the camp.
Despite warnings of continued violence, a video released by activists on Thursday showed dozens of people returning to Yarmouk. Most of the people in the footage were men, suggesting entire families may not be venturing back yet.
“There are still negotiations going on between the Palestinians and the rebels. The rebels want control of the checkpoints to be sure they can keep supply routes open to central Damascus,” said a rebel who asked not to be named.
“Palestinians want their fighters to run the checkpoints so the army will stop attacking and people can go home. But we are worried there are government collaborators among them.”
The fighter said rebels were looking to ensure their Palestinian allies could keep open access for rebels in Yarmouk, which they have described as a gateway to central Damascus.
LEBANON BORDER POST TAKEN
Elsewhere, Syrian insurgents took over an isolated border post on the western frontier with Lebanon earlier this week, local residents told Reuters on Thursday.
They said around 20 rebels from the Qadissiyah Brigade overran the post at Rankus, which is linked by road to the remote Lebanese village of Tufail.
Video footage downloaded on the Internet on Thursday, dated December 16, showed a handful of fighters dressed in khaki fatigues and wielding rifles as they kicked down a stone barricade around a small, single-storey army checkpoint.
“This is the end of you, Bashar you dog,” one of the fighters said. The remains of two army trucks, which the rebels said had been blown up, stood nearby on a single track dirt road crossing a flat brown plain between snow-capped mountains.
Syrian Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday for treatment of wounds sustained in a bomb attack on his ministry in Damascus a week ago.
Lebanese medical sources said Shaar had shrapnel wounds in his shoulder, stomach and legs but they were not critical.
The Syrian opposition has tried to peel off defectors not only from the army but from the government as well, though only a handful of high-ranking officials have abandoned Assad.
But the conflict has divided many Syrian families. Security forces arrested on Thursday an opposition activist who is also the relative of Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa, the Syrian Observatory said. The man was arrested along with five other activists who are considered pacifists, it said.
Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim who has few powers in Assad’s Alawite-dominated power structure, said earlier this week that neither side could win the war in Syria. He called for the formation of a national unity government to solve a crisis that has killed more than 40,000 Syrians.
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
#Syria Nov 23/12 A few more of today’s protests
Al Sakhur, Aleppo
Sheik Fares, Aleppo
Old Aleppo rd, Hama
12/11/2012 Hama, #Syria Graphic: This young man who is 18 years of age was arrested by Air Force Intelligence branch. He spent 4 months in their torture prison. They deprived him of food and drink. He was beaten up, electrocuted and was tortured under water during his time in prison. Before he was arrested, he weighed 80kg.
8 Nov 2012 #Syria : Hama - Formation the Vanguards of Martyrs Brigade, Syria brigade of five fronts
Brigade : tanks
Brigade : artilleries
Brigade : air defense
Brigade : raid
Brigade : technical
Brigade : medical
Battalion : reinforcemnts
The Syrian regime has transformed a military airport in Hama city into one of the country’s most-feared prisons, where detainees are crammed into hangars and deadly torture is rife, activists, watchdogs and former inmates say.
Known as the site of a 1982 uprising which was crushed amid tens of thousands of deaths by President Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez, Hama has also suffered in Syria’s current uprising.
Activists in Hama took part in the modern uprising that broke out in March last year but following an almost six-week siege in the summer of 2011, the army and security forces took full control of the city.
Open dissent has since been nearly impossible, with detentions carried out almost daily by the security forces, monitors and activists say.
Those detained are often sent to Hama military airport, which is not only sending warplanes on air raids but also being used as a prison by the feared Air Force Intelligence service.
“The airport is known for being the place where the worst human rights abuses of all the detention centers are committed against detainees,” a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi told AFP via Skype.
“Detainees are tortured wherever they are taken, whether it’s a security branch or a makeshift detention center in a hospital,” said Abu Ghazi.
“But the airport is terrifying. People pay bribes just to be transferred from there to other detention centers.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog that has documented rights violations in Syria since 2006, said the airport has become notorious “for the ugliest forms of torture and murder of detainees”.
“After the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March last year, the authorities began to kill demonstrators and launch a frenzied crackdown against anyone suspected of participating in the uprising,” it said in a statement this week.
With so many suspected activists detained and its prisons overflowing, the regime resorted to using a range of public facilities across the country for detentions, from football stadiums to schools, activists and monitors say.
The Britain-based Observatory said it has documented at least 700 cases nationwide in which detainees have been tortured to death and many others in which torture led to permanent disability.
Hama military airport has gained the worst reputation of all among these unofficial prisons, according to Observatory Director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“Thousands of prisoners, young and old, have suffered the most brutal forms of torture and murder, unchecked by any sense of morality or accountability. Since it is not an official prison, there are no records kept of detainees,” he said.
“Sometimes more than 500 detainees are crammed inside one aircraft hangar, which can reach above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer and has led to the deaths of many people with heart disease or breathing issues.”
The Observatory said the bodies of those who died were left for days among the prisoners, who had no access to toilets and were forced to defecate in the hangar.
The Observatory relies on a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals.
In an account of his time at the airport, activist Mourad al-Hamwi, who was held for 75 days from early July, described horrific conditions.
“We were 57 detainees in a dungeon only four-by-three-meters wide. When I arrived I had to squeeze myself into the forest of legs in the cell,” he said in the account provided to AFP.
“The smell of blood mixed with festering mildew and sweat was suffocating. The lice, cockroaches and insects found an excellent environment there,” 25-year-old Hamwi said.
The detainees ranged from pre-teens to elderly men, some half-dressed, some naked, and all of them covered in bruises.
“One man said he was arrested because of a mix-up in names. Another told me sarcastically he was charged with possessing ‘weapons’.”
During his time in detention, Hamwi said at least 40 people were tortured to death.
“One of them, Jihad Saleh, had his hands bound to his feet behind his back and was left lying on his stomach without food. He starved to death in the corridor outside my cell.”
Another man was being held in a cell along with his family, including four children.
“They broke his leg when he confessed he was a rebel. He choked with tears as he told me he was prepared to sacrifice one of his sons to save the rest of his family,” said Hamwi.
“What is happening to Syrian detainees is hidden from the eyes and ears of the world. We have no one else but God.”