Escalation of Syria’s Conlict Reveals Bashar Assad’s Fear of Ramadan

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In her latest article for TIME, Rania Abouzeid investigates the fallout from the latest government offensive on the Syrian city of Hama, which commenced Sunday when army tanks entered residential neighborhoods. Some reports put the two-day death toll as high as 127 people including 95 civilians, as shells continue to fall on the embattled city that claimed its “liberation” from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime a month ago. As Abouzeid reports, these latest attacks are different than previous incidents because the bombardment of Hama was coordinated with attacks on the eastern towns of Deir ez-Zour and Al-Boukamal, as well as Mouathamiya near the capital Damascus, and the village of al-Harak in the southern province of Dara’a. This large-scale offensive, one expert told TIME, could show Assad’s fear of the political consequences of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan:

Wissam Tarif, executive director of the rights group Insan, says Sunday’s events suggest the regime is panicked. “It’s a fear of Ramadan,” he told TIME from Beirut. “Assad lost Hama for a month. Hama announced itself to be a liberated city. If it continued to be a liberated city in Ramadan, then they would lose Deir ez-Zour next, and then Damascus, starting in its suburbs. That’s something which makes them panicked,” he said.

The death toll in Hama continued to spiral throughout the day. If Assad’s show of force was intended to cow the city’s residents, it wasn’t working, according to Omar al-Habbal, a 57-year-old Hama resident who is also a member of the Local Coordination Committees, a leading activist group. “People would see a tank advancing toward them and they’d stand their ground, thousands of them,” he told TIME by phone from the besieged city. Bursts of intense gunfire could be heard during the interview. “The tank would be firing and the people would be attacking it; with stones, with their hands, with sticks,” he said.

Read the full article here.