Syria army readies push into IS-held parts of Deir al Zor

Syria’s army sent massive reinforcements to territory under its control in Deir al Zor on Monday ahead of a final push for the IS group-held half of the eastern city. The metropolis is the capital of the oil-rich eastern province of Deir al Zor, regarded as a strategic prize by both Russian-backed Syrian troops and US-backed fighters. Syrian forces have scored major advances in recent days, breaking a pair of IS sieges on the city and capturing territory around it. They were now looking to make a push into the eastern IS-held part of the city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
“Huge military reinforcements, including equipment, vehicles and fighters have arrived in Deir al Zor ahead of an attack to push IS from the city’s eastern neighbourhoods,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
“Russian and Syrian warplanes are striking IS positions in the city and its outskirts,” he added.
Since 2014, IS has controlled most of Deir al Zor city and the surrounding province, which borders territory the IS hold in Iraq.
The remaining 40 per cent of the city still held by the government — and home to around 100,000 civilians — was under crippling IS siege.
Backed by Russian air power, government troops have breached IS’s sieges, captured the strategic Jabal Thardah region and expanded their control to half of Deir al Zor city, according to the Observatory.
Moscow intervened in Syria in September 2015 in support of its ally President Bashar al Assad.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday a demining unit comprising more than 40 experts and special equipment had been sent to Syria, adding that they will be sent to Deir al Zor “in the nearest future”.
On Sunday, Russian air strikes killed 34 civilians fleeing the violence in Deir al Zor aboard ferries
along the Euphrates River, the Observatory said.
The long river cuts diagonally across Deir al Zor province, slicing it in half.
Fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday announced a separate offensive to capture IS territory east of the river.
By Monday, the SDF’s Deir al Zor Military Council (DEMC) had seized much of the province’s northeast and were just a few km away from the river.
Abdel Rahman said they had advanced to six km from its eastern banks, at a point across the river from Deir al Zor city.
The SDF, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, is also battling IS in the militants’ de facto capital Raqa with backing from the US-led air coalition.
Although the SDF had yet to reach Deir al Zor city itself, tribal figures affiliated with the alliance said they were laying the groundwork for governing the city after IS’s defeat.
The statement, published by the SDF’s media council, announced the establishment of “a preparatory committee that will discuss the basis and starting points for a civil council for Deir al Zor”.
According to the statement, consultations would aim to reach a “formulation that will express the aspirations of all our people in Deir al Zor.”
The Deir al Zor Civil Council “will be responsible for running the city immediately after its liberation”.
It made no mention of regime forces and did not say whether the civil council would coordinate with, or rival, government authorities.
The SDF has said its assault in Deir al Zor province is not in coordination with Russian or Syrian forces.
But the coalition, the SDF, Syria’s government and Russia have agreed on a “de-confliction line” in northeastern Syria to prevent the two offensives from clashing.

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