Assad says Syria war does not end in Deir al Zor

BEIRUT: Syria’s army and its allies will keep fighting in Syria after the battle ends in Deir al Zor province, where IS has its last significant stronghold, President Bashar al Assad said on Tuesday.
He also indicated that he might take the war to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls more than a quarter of Syria, by saying the war targeted those who seek to “divide and weaken states”.
His comments came after a meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The victories against terrorist organisations, starting in Aleppo and not ending in Deir al Zor, formed a critical strike that foiled partition projects and terrorist goals,” Assad’s office quoted him as saying.
Assad regards all the groups fighting against the Syrian state as terrorist groups.
The Syrian army, with Russian air power and militias, is waging an offensive against IS in the eastern Deir al Zor province, mostly on the west banks of the Euphrates River.
The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, is also battling IS militants in Deir al Zor.
Backed by US-led air strikes and special forces, the SDF has focused on territory east of the river, which bisects the oil-rich province.
Velayati on Friday said Syrian army forces would soon advance to take Raqa city from the SDF and accused the United States of seeking to divide Syria by stationing its forces east of the Euphrates.
“We will witness in the near future the advance of government and popular forces in Syria and east of the Euphrates, and the liberation of Raqa city,” he said in televised comments on a visit to Beirut.
Turkey also supports rebel groups in a pocket in northern Syria, wedged between Kurdish-controlled areas.
Last month, its army began setting up observation points in Idlib province in northwest Syria under a deal with Russia and Iran.
Assad said in his meeting with Velayati that the battle would last “until the recovery of security and stability to all Syrian lands”, his office said.
Meanwhile, at least five civilians, including children, were killed on Tuesday when Syrian government planes hit a rebel-held area inside the besieged eastern region of Ghouta, near Damascus, a monitor said.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the planes hit the city of Sabqa, also injuring nine people, some of them suffering from serious wounds.
The eastern Ghouta region is the main opposition bastion on the fringes of the capital.
Rebels there, beset by internal feuds, have been steadily losing ground to Syrian forces in recent months.
The United Nations has voiced deep concerns due to the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the eastern part of the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where some 400,000 people are trapped.
The Syrian conflict began with peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011 that spiralled into a full-blown war between the Syrian government, opposition rebels, the region’s Kurdish minority, and radical groups. — Agencies