The central region of Syria, which includes both Homs and Hama and almost one-third of the Syrian territory, has been witnessing widespread clashes between the regime’s forces and the armed opposition.
While the opposition groups managed to hail “the liberated city of Hama,” its neighboring city Homs has temporarily enjoyed a measure of autonomy, before clashes flared up once again at the disadvantage of the opposition.
In Homs, the Deir Baalba neighborhood has fallen into the hands of the regime forces, exposing the media cover of armed groups.
While the local coordination committees leaked news of a massacre that allegedly claimed the lives of more than 200 people, activists were surprised to learn that this media propaganda was designed to settle personal scores among the key players of “Homs’ Revolution.” People are falling victim to treason and counter-accusations between the ranks of armed battalions.
On the front in Hama, three groups are fighting together. However, while the three share the same primary goal, their objectives differ in structure, organization and arms.
Jabhat al-Nusra is at the forefront. It enjoys highly precise organization and massive funding. Jabhat al-Nusra has finally agreed to coordinate with the rest of the militant groups. It outperforms the other armed groups as it has wide experience in battlefields. The armed Islamist group employs hit-and-run tactics, which it uses in major military operations to inflict great damage on the target without stationing in a particular area.
The popularity of Jabhat al-Nusra has increased considerably, as people have been taking to the streets in demonstrations, waving placards in support of the Islamist group. On the other hand, the group continues to distance itself from the media.
In addition, there is the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades, which come second after Jabhat al-Nusra, despite its great organization and considerable funding. The brigades’ militants used to fight in jihadist operations in Iraq, but they still lack the savvy of other jihadists coming from abroad.
Many other battalions fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. Most importantly the al-Farouq brigade, which is connected one way or another to the main battalion in Homs that enjoys unlimited funding. This is in addition to the Abdullah Ibn al-Zubair Battalion and the al-Latamina Martyrs group.
These groups are fighting on three fronts, in the northwest, the north and the south, especially in Idlib in the north via the town of Maarat al-Naaman. They seek to cut off all military supply routes to the regime, which still retains control of the heart of the city and the entirety of the military and security headquarters. The regime also controls the airport and the Hama Citadel, where the regime’s artillery is based, targeting opposition militants. Also, the loyalist forces hold sway over the military airport and the engineering battalion in Rastan. This is in addition to the cities of Mhardeh and Saglabiye, where the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has warned the people to evacuate their homes as it will shell the areas in response to the regime’s fire. The FSA also distributed flyers reading “forewarned is forearmed.”
While fighters depend on the spoils of their battles with the regime, their foreign-based supporters are keen to limit their supplies to those battalions. According to those close for the armed opposition, Turkey holds the largest part of funds and weapons.
Perhaps, Turkey is refraining from opening the floodgates for funds to the opposition because Ankara seeks to activate the role of new military leadership that has been recently formed in Antalya. Turkey is also distraught about the spread of Jabhat al-Nusra throughout Syrian territories, as indicated by Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the Syrian Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
The state of chaos in Aleppo is not necessarily similar to the situation of Hama and its surroundings, which does not suffer from sectarian tension.
However, unlike Hama, every battalion in Homs depends on private sources of funding and weapons. There are clear indications that the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, Qataris and Turks prevails in many battalions. Meanwhile, other armed groups and battalions continue to stress the need to protect civilians from the repercussions of scarce funding and wars between battalions over media reviews and support.
In this context, one activist said that a battalion would film its leaders in front of a building or street of a certain area that was “liberated” at the hands of another battalion, luring the people into believing that they were the ones who had liberated the area. Thus, funds would be exclusively channeled to this deceiving battalion, leading to slaughter, attacks and kidnappings among battalions.
This is not to mention fabricated news that is blown out of proportion, at the whim of media activists. The battalions’ commanders have become blinded by arrogance to the extent that they store their weapon supplies and use them to eliminate one another, without any regard for the lives of civilians.
However, the most surprising thing in Homs is the absence of Jabhat al-Nusra. According to many activists, the Salafist movement is not militarily active in the battlefield of Homs, but continues to supply rebels with aid. Yet, this does not mean that other Salafist fundamentalist groups have been absent from Homs, which has been the main front for many months. Homs has been rife with hatred and sectarianism to the extent that it has been described as the “weakest link” in the Syrian revolution.