Fierce fighting between Islamic State group and Assad regime forces has killed more than 80 people since Saturday in Deir Ezzor, where the militant group has launched an assault to capture a government-held area besieged for more than a year.
ISIS took a large part of the city of Deir Ezzor in July 2014 and forced a crippling siege on the regime’s remaining areas since January 2015. Assad regime retained control of the airport and neighboring districts in the city, which lies on the Euphrates river.
The residents of Deir Ezzor and the Assad regime’s military forces receive food only via planes delivering humanitarian aid after all the roads have been cut by ISIS
ISIS has launched many offensives trying to capture the remaining regime’s enclave or at least cut it from the close military airport.
The last offensive started a few days ago and reached its peak point on Monday.
A Syrian military source said the fighting was intense. “This attack is one of the most fierce attempts by ISIS on the airport and the area,” Reuters reported. “It seems ISIS has mobilized a big force.”
Describing the fighting as the fiercest in the eastern city for a year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that at least 82 people had been killed.
It also reported that Islamic State had cut the road linking the air base to the rest of the government enclave, meaning the army would be able to supply the city only by air drops, but this was denied by the military source.
The governor of Deir Ezzor, Mohammad Ibrahim Samra, said in a telephone interview on state television that clashes were taking place on the air base road.
The fiercest fighting was concentrated around the Deir Ezzor cemetery and a road junction known locally as the Panorama Roundabout, the Observatory said.
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According to Kurdish news service ARA News, IS captured several areas in the east of the city, forcing government forces to evacuate a military headquarters.
“The regime’s troops were forced to evacuate their headquarters under heavy ISIS bombardment. Both Bagheliya and Tallat al-Brouk are now under ISIS control,” media activist Ahmed Ramadan told ARA News from the city.
Using car bombs and rockets, IS militants seized the Sakan al-Jahiziya neighbourhood on the Deir Ezzor–Damascus highway from the National Defence Forces (NDF), Ramadan said.
“Pro-regime troops escaped the neighbourhood to avoid further losses in manpower and equipment, heading towards western Deir Ezzor,” he added.
The dead comprised 28 from the army and allied militia, at least 40 Islamic State fighters, and 14 civilians, the British-based monitoring group said. Syrian state news agency SANA said the army had killed dozens of Islamic State fighters in attacks on the group’s positions around Deir Ezzor.
While world attention has been on Aleppo and Damascus, IS has made renewed advances in the country’s east where its forces in Syria are concentrated. Last month it recaptured the city of Palmyra, 185km southwest of Deir Ezzor, from the government in an unexpected advance that demonstrated its continuing military threat.
In addition, ISIS has blown up on January 9 the “Hayyan” Gas company in Hijaz region in the eastern countryside of Homs using tons of highly explosive material.
The company, that was taken over by ISIS last month after a fierce attack on the eastern countryside of Homs, produces about 3.5 million cubic meters of gas, about 6 thousand barrels per day, and 180 thousand tons of gas for household usage.
The company is considered Syria’s biggest gas supplier and started working in 2011 at a cost estimated at 290 million euros.
The regime’s hands in Deir Ezzor seem tied up as it can do nothing other than airstrikes on ISIS’s locations but no moves on the ground. Therefore, the regime seeks to achieve an alternative victory in Palmyra.
It was initially believed that the military operation in Palmyra against ISIS would not begin until February or even March. However, reports say that the regime forces are going to accelerate the timing of this assault in their attempt to retrieve natural resources from ISIS and to absorb the growing dissatisfaction of the civilians.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.