The strategically important town of Halfaya in western Syria’s Hama Province has fallen to a group of Islamist rebels dominated by the al-Qaeda-linked Jund al-Aqsa. The town fell quickly in an overnight assault, overrunning both the limited military presence and pro-government locals.
The strategic value of Halfaya is its proximity to the main Damascus-Aleppo highway, and the part of the highway that links it to the Mediterranean coast, territory almost exclusively held by the government. The scary part, however, is that the population of the town is mostly Christians and Alawites.
Jund al-Aqsa isn’t particularly friendly to either, but has made public their intention to inflict devastating casualties on the nation’s Alawite population. President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, and many rebels see the Alawites as pro-government in general. Since the rebels have tended to target them, many indeed are supportive of the government.
One of the commanders involved in the capture of the town reported that a “cleansing” is currently ongoing, and that the rebel faction behind the push “will have more surprises in store” after the successful offensive.