Reports emerging from Syria indicate that an important Christian stronghold — the city of Mhardeh and nearby Hama — have been surrounded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-backed rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
One account comes from the Middle Eastern news service Al-Monitor:
The swift deterioration of the situation in the west and north of Hama’s countryside [comes] as anti-regime forces — including Jabhat al-Nusra — advance toward the Christian city of Mhardeh, which overlooks Al-Ghab Plain, as well as in the direction of Hama’s military airport.
The militants began carrying out unprecedented attacks using BM-21 Grad missiles targeting the regime’s sites surrounding Alawite-majority towns in Masyaf city and Al-Ghab Plain.
Moreover, civilians have started fleeing Alawite villages that are located near battlefields such as the town of Arza near Hama’s military airport, which has been deserted.
A resident from an Alawite town in the western countryside of Hama told Al-Monitor, “The situation has become perilous as groups linked to Jabhat al-Nusra are approaching the region.”
“People are carrying arms at an increasingly rapid pace, while many families owning real estate in Tartous and Latakia have deserted their homes. The situation has become alarming in this region, especially since many residents expect Jabhat al-Nusra to commit massacres there, should it progress in the region. This will be in retaliation for the massacres the group accused the NDF of committing in Sunni towns — mainly in the towns of Tremseh and al-Lataminah in 2012,” he said.
A quick tour of the Alawite villages in the west of Hama’s countryside is sufficient to notice the extent of tension and alert among people, as dozens of checkpoints are deployed along the roads, while cars and pedestrians are being thoroughly searched.