The town of Kafr Zita in the northern Hama countryside is witnessing a slow but steady revival as citizens stream back to the embattled town six months after clashes between rebel groups and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) displaced some 40,000 people from the region and about 95% of the town’s population.
The northern Hama countryside has been the scene of some of the most vicious fighting that took place over the course of 2017. Some six months ago, a collection of rebel groups including Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated Jaish al-Nasr and Jaish al-Izza launched a massive offensive on the SAA positions in a bid to reach the provincial capital of Hama City. Located in the borderlands that separate government-held areas and the rebel-held areas, Kafr Zita was virtually on the frontline of the fighting.
What began as a successful rebel offensive that managed to capture the nearby towns of Tayybat al-Imam, Halfaya, Qimhana, Souran and Khattab, among others, quickly turned to the advantage of the government forces, resulting in a rout that put the rebels in a position worse than before. Although Kafr Zita was not taken by the SAA, government forces still launched a ground attack there and shelled it heavy. Today, the town, along with its neighbours Lataminah and Morek, remain the only towns in the region still under rebel control.
Even after the battles were over, the rebels and the government forces continued to shell each other. Although Lataminah bore the brunt of the SAA shelling, Kafr Zita was frequently targeted as well.
Since the agreement of the de-escalation zones four months ago, the situation has improved. Open fighting between the government and rebel forces has practically ended and shelling has become increasingly infrequent. Residents in Kafr Zita say that the improved security situation has people to return to the town but the occasional shelling continues to scare some people off.
The de-escalation zones covering northern Hama and the nearby Idlib Province has yet to be agreed upon. The Syria talks in Astana are expected to focus on implementing this particular zone. There have already been reports of Russian Military Police deploying in the government-held town of Tayybat al-Imam, south of Kafr Zita. If the peace in the region holds, it may signal the return of more people to their homes.