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Al-Ghab Plain: Bridges Shared Across Conflict Sides

Shariah Bridge after being demolished by opposition factions in the countryside of Hama - 31 August 2018 (Sourced from Facebook)

Shariah Bridge after being demolished by opposition factions in the countryside of Hama - 31 August 2018 (Sourced from Facebook)

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Enab Baladi- Hama Countryside 

Al-Alman and al-Telyan are two branches of the Orontes River that represent its western and eastern channels. They are the sites of two bridges, which represent an important geographical landmark for al-Ghab Plain in the Hama countryside. These bridges have been affected by shelling and military operations, and their control, with strategic importance to the parties to the Syrian conflict, has been shared across different sides.

In al-Ghab Plain, control over dozens of bridges have been divided among opposition factions and Syrian regime forces. This area is penetrated by the Orontes before it enters the territories of Idlib, while control of some bridges along this river is still shared between the two parties equally.

Opposition-Held Bridges, Mostly Destroyed

Syrian opposition factions in al-Ghab Plain sought to control villages and vital areas that would enable them to gain military leverage and strengthen their presence in the area, and to halt the advance of the Syrian regime.

In this context, rebel factions retained five strategic bridges they control in al-Ghab Plain:

Al-Tuwaineh Bridge: It connects the towns of Qalaat al-Madiq and al-Tuwaineh, which are under the control of the opposition, to the villages controlled by the Syrian regime in al-Ghab Plain such as Khandaq and al-Hurra. It is of great importance to farmers in the area whose lands are located west of the eastern channel of the Orontes.

On September 5, 2018, the Ahrar al-Sham Movement destroyed the bridge, fearing that the regime would use it to advance towards Qalaat al-Madiq, which led to its rendering indefinitely inaccessible. The bridge had previously been targeted by the regime, repeatedly conducting airstrikes targeting the structure.

Shariah Bridge: It is located 2 km north of al-Tuwaineh Bridge, and was integral to the lives of villages such as al-Kareem, Ashrafieh, Ramleh and Qabr Fidda before they were controlled by the regime, and it has great agricultural significance. However, Ahrar al-Sham demolished it on September 31, 2018, rendering it inaccessible.

Regime forces had been stationed on the bridge before withdrawing from it on May 2, 2015.

Al-Hwaiz Bridge: It is located 3 km north of Shariah Bridge, and connects the village of al-Hwaiz which is controlled by the opposition, to al-Rasif village under regime control.

On 7 March, the regime targeted the bridge with “elephant rockets” which led to its destruction and departure from service. The regime feared infiltration by factions to villages under its control, and deprived farmers whose lands were west of the Oronotes from continuing their activities and harvesting their crops.

The area affected by the targeting of the bridge is estimated at about 5,000 acres.

Beit al-Ras: The bridge is located 3 km north of the al-Hwaiz Bridge, and connects villages of al-Ghab under the control of the opposition, such as the Beit al-Ras, al-Hwash and Hawija, to al-Jeed and Tamanaa which are under regime control.

It is vital to farmers in the area, as west of the bridge are agricultural lands of an area spanning more than five thousand acres.

On September 31, 2018, Ahrar al-Sham destroyed it as part of its plan to prevent the regime from advancing, along with several other bridges in al-Ghab Plain. Regime forces had targeted it before, but did not manage to completely destroy it.

Al-Karkour Bridge: The only bridge on the Orontes River which remains accessible for transit in Syrian opposition areas. It is located near the Karkour basalt hill and strategically links the areas of Jabal al-Akrad to the countrysides of Hama and Idlib.

Bridges Remaining Under Regime Control

The Syrian regime controls seven bridges in al-Ghab Plan, and it attempted to hold on to them due to their geographical importance, and to block opposition factions from infiltrating through these bridges to the areas under its control. These bridges are:

Al-Asharnah Bridge: The bridge is located to the north of al-Ghab Plain, between the towns of al-Asharnah and the town of Salhab. It connects the towns of As Suqaylabiyah and Masyaf to the town of Salhab as well.

Horat Amuri Bridge: It is considered one of the most important bridges in Al-Ghab Plain, because it connects the region to the Syrian coast. It represents a node between the town of As Suqaylabiyah and the mountains of Latakia.

Al-Mahd Bridge: It is located west of the city of As Suqaylabiyah, and has some of the most prominent security checkpoints of the Syrian regime, including al-Nahel checkpoint which the regime uses to target the villages of al-Ghab Plain and Shashabo.

Mardash Bridge: It separates the villages of al-Qahira and Mardash, and links the eastern and western parts of al-Ghab Plain. It is also a checkpoint for regime forces, through which it attempts to prevent the infiltration of opposition factions towards villages of the Latakia mountains.

Shahtah Bridge: It is located between the towns of al-Rasif and Shahtah, five kilometers north of the Mardash bridge, and regime forces are stationed on it.

Al-Touta Bridge: It connects the villages of al-Touta, Darabla and Hakoura with the town of Jourin. It has had a regime checkpoint since 2011.

Al-Bahsa Bridge: It is the last of the bridges controlled by the Syrian regime, and connects al-Masharee’ area of al-Ziyara town, under the control of the opposition, to the village of al-Bahsa under regime control.

Bridges Shared by Both Parties

In light of the battles that took place in al-Ghab Plain over the past years, the dominant forces clashed over bridges in the area. This produced instances in which bridges are shared equally between the regime and the opposition.

Al-Ziyara Bridge: Located near the rural development area, which was considered a major camp for regime forces before its control by opposition factions in the summer of 2015.

The eastern side of the bridge is controlled by opposition factions, while the Syrian regime controls its western side.

Al-Hakoura Bridge: The bridge was under the control of the two parties before it was completely destroyed in April 2016, when Jund al-Aqsa targeted it with a car bomb that led to its destruction and departure from service.

Through al-Hakoura bridge, Syrian regime forces had previously mounted several incursions to villages in al-Ghab Plain, including al-Ziyara and Tel Wasit. However, these attempts halted completely after the destruction of the bridge.

Khirbet al-Naqus bridge: The bridge was destroyed in 2016, after the opposition took control of the village of Khirbet al-Naqus. The bridge connected the village to villages of the Latakia mountains, and separated areas of opposition control from those controlled by the regime.

Since the beginning of the armed conflict, the regime has sought to control all bridges along the Orontes River in the al-Ghab Plain, to fortify its positions in villages under its control, most of which are located west of the river.

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