Syrian army advances on IS in Deir al Zor

US-backed militias and the Syrian army advanced in separate offensives against IS in eastern Syria on Saturday, piling pressure on shrinking territory the group still holds in oil-rich areas near the Iraqi border.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance of mostly Arab and Kurdish fighters, launched a new operation against the militants in the north of Deir al Zor province that aims to capture areas north and east of the Euphrates river.
Syrian government forces and their allies, backed by allies, meanwhile seized an oilfield from militants on the other side of the Euphrates and recaptured part of a road linking Deir al Zor to areas held by IS further downstream.
The advances against IS in territory it has held for years as part of its self-declared caliphate will likely bring US-backed forces and the Syrian government side into closer proximity.
A US warplane shot down a Syrian army jet near Raqa in June and the SDF accused the Syrian government of bombing its positions, showing the risk of escalation between warring sides in a crowded battlefield.
The Syrian conflict has drawn the military involvement of most world powers. Peace talks have repeatedly failed to bring an end to the war.
The SDF operation in Deir al Zor province aims to capture areas in its northern and eastern countryside and advance towards the Euphrates, the Deir al Zor Military Council, which is fighting as part of the SDF, said.
“The first step is to free the eastern bank of the Euphrates and the areas IS still holds,” Ahmed Abu Kholeh, head of the military council, said after the announcement.
“We’re not specifying a timeframe but we hope it will be a quick operation,” he said.
Abu Kholeh would not say whether there were plans to advance on Deir al Zor city itself. “We don’t know how the battles will go after this,” he said.
He said SDF fighters did not expect clashes with Syrian government forces as they advance, but if fired upon “we will respond”.
Syrian government forces and their allies meanwhile recaptured from militants the Teym oilfield southwest of Deir al Zor city, on the other side of the Euphrates, state TV reported.
They also seized part of a main highway running from Deir al Zor downstream to the city of Al Mayadeen, to which many IS militants have retreated, the British-based Observatory said. That advance would help block potential IS reinforcements from Al Mayadeen, it said.
The Syrian army last week advanced quickly, backed by Russian air strikes, to reach a government-held enclave of Deir al Zor that was besieged for years by IS. — Reuters

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