BEIRUT – A deadly rocket barrage targeted the Hama town of Salamiyah, an important center for the Ismaili minority community of Syria.
“A number of rockets [fired by] an unknown [actor] fell on the town of Salamiyah,” an activist in the regime-controlled town told Alaraby Aljadeed in a report published Tuesday.
A local journalist told the London-based daily that one rocket had struck “near the [town’s] onion processing plant, and two near the Imam Ismail Shrine.”
The rockets killed “a young woman near the onion processing plant and four people near the Imam Ismail Shrine, from the Khadija, Al-Ziz, Shahine and Hamawi families,” the journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added.
“The number of people killed by rockets that struck areas in the east Hama countryside town of Salamiyah rose to 11,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday, adding that two children and one woman were among the dead.
“The number of fatalities is likely to rise as at least 25 people were critically injured in the attack,” the monitoring group added.
Salamiyah hosts the largest population of Ismailis in the Middle East, who make up approximately half the town's population. The remaining inhabitants adhere to Alawite, Shiite and Sunni Islam.
Although the identity of the group that launched the deadly attack remains unknown, reports indicate that the rocket fire originated from an area controlled by Islamist factions west of the town.
Salamiyah Local Coordination Committee activist Abu Ismail al-Salamouni said that the rockets were probably fired from the “the western side of [the] Al-Sathiyat and Tuloul al-Hamr [areas] where the Al-Nusra Front and [other] opposition factions, including the Homs Corps and Bayyada Martyrs Battalion are based.”
“After [the rocket attack], regime helicopters targeted the western part of Salamiyah Countryside,” he told Alaraby Aljadeed.
Meanwhile, the SOHR reported that the rockets were fired from an area controlled by Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist factions in western Salamiyah countryside.
Salamiyah is located in a strategic position between Hama’s military airport and the town of Khanasser on the road north to Aleppo. ISIS, which holds ground to the east of the town, has moved closer to Salamiyah in recent weeks.
“Residents […] are living between two fires. On one side there is ISIS and the fear that the town will be stormed and massacres will be committed, especially after the events in the [nearby] village of Mabuja,” Salamouni said in an interview with Araby Aljadeed.
“On the other side there is the regime’s shabiha and their arbitrary practices like robbery, detention, abduction and press-ganging.”
The rocket barrage comes a week after ISIS fighters massacred over 46 people, including three children, in the village of Mabuja, 25 kilometers northeast of Salamiyah.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that ISIS members had beheaded, shot and set fire to their victims after briefly entering the village, which is populated by a sectarian mix of Alawites, Ismailis and Sunnis.
ISIS stormed Mabuja after midnight on March 31, killing six pro-regime fighters, before regime forces managed to push the rampaging militants out of the Hama village.
Tension has risen in the Mabuja area between two pro-regime militias following the ISIS massacre, according to the activist “Salamieh Slaughtered” Facebook group.
The group, which maintains a neutral political line, said that the residents of Mabuja and a local unit of the Desert Falcons militia had barred entry to National Defense Force militiamen from a nearby village.
“The people of Mabuja refused to let the National Defense Force members to enter the village because of the thefts [they] conducted in the village and for not supporting [Mabuja] when ISIS attacked it.”
The activists claimed that the Desert Falcons had expelled a group of militiamen from nearby Sabburah “after they stole seven motorbikes and two sheep belonging to Mabuja victims.”