War­planes pound US-backed mili­tia

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

US-backed mili­tias said they came un­der at­tack yes­ter­day from Rus­sian jets and Syr­ian govern­ment forces in Deir Al-Zor prov­ince, a flash­point in an in­creas­ingly com­plex bat­tle­field. The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF), an al­liance of Kur­dish and Arab mili­tias fight­ing with the US-led mil­i­tary coali­tion, said the strikes wounded six of its fight­ers. Wash­ing­ton and Moscow are back­ing sep­a­rate of­fen­sives in the Syr­ian con­flict - with both sides ad­vanc­ing against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in the east­ern re­gion that bor­ders Iraq.

“Our forces east of the Euphrates were hit with an at­tack from the Rus­sian air­craft and Syr­ian regime forces, tar­get­ing our units in the industrial zone,” the SDF said in a state­ment. The SDF ac­cused Da­m­as­cus of try­ing to ob­struct its bat­tle against Is­lamic State. Such at­tacks “waste en­er­gies that should be used against ter­ror­ism ... and open the door to side con­flicts,” it said. There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from the Syr­ian govern­ment or Moscow. The as­saults by the Rus­sian-backed Syr­ian army and the US-backed SDF have at times raised fears of clashes that could stoke ten­sions be­tween the com­pet­ing world pow­ers.

The of­fen­sives have con­verged on Is­lamic State from op­po­site sides of the Euphrates river, which bi­sects oil-rich Deir Al-Zor, Is­lamic State’s last ma­jor foothold in Syria. Syr­ian troops with Iran-backed mili­tias have closed in from the west since last week, while the SDF ad­vances from the east. Rus­sian and US bat­tles against Is­lamic State in Syria have mostly stayed out of each other’s way, with the Euphrates of­ten act­ing as a di­vid­ing line.

Talks have been un­der way to ex­tend a for­mal de­mar­ca­tion line, of­fi­cials have said. In June, the SDF ac­cused the Syr­ian army of bomb­ing its po­si­tions in Raqqa prov­ince and the United States shot down a Syr­ian govern­ment war­plane.

Across the river

Ahmed Abu Khawla, the com­man­der of the SDF’s Deir al-Zor mil­i­tary coun­cil, said Rus­sian or Syr­ian fighter jets flew in from gov­ern­men­theld ter­ri­tory be­fore dawn. The war­planes struck as the SDF waged “heated and bloody bat­tles” in the industrial zone on the east­ern bank, seiz­ing fac­to­ries from Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, he said. “We have re­quested ex­pla­na­tions from the Rus­sian govern­ment,” he told Reuters. “We have asked for ex­pla­na­tions from the coali­tion ... and nec­es­sary ac­tion to stop these jets.

The strikes came a day af­ter Khawla said his fight­ers would not let Syr­ian govern­ment forces cross the Euphrates. On Friday, he warned the army and its al­lies against fir­ing at SDF po­si­tions across the river - which he said they had done in re­cent days. The Rus­sian for­eign min­istry said units of the Syr­ian army had al­ready crossed. A se­nior aide to Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad said the govern­ment would fight any force, in­clud­ing the US-backed mili­tias, to re­cap­ture the en­tire coun­try. “I’m not say­ing this will hap­pen to­mor­row ... but this is the strate­gic in­tent,” Bouthaina Shaa­ban said in a TV in­ter­view.

The US-led coali­tion said last week that the SDF did not plan to en­ter Deir Al-Zor city, where Syr­ian troops re­cently broke an Is­lamic State siege that had lasted three years.

A pro-Da­m­as­cus mil­i­tary al­liance launched at­tacks yes­ter­day from the south­ern cor­ner of Deir Al-Zor prov­ince to drive Is­lamic State from the Iraqi bor­der. Is­lamic State is also com­ing un­der at­tack by US-backed Iraqi govern­ment forces just over the bor­der from Syria’s Deir Al- Zor in­side Iraq. Is­lamic State’s dec­la­ra­tion in 2014 of a “caliphate” span­ning both coun­tries ef­fec­tively col­lapsed in July, when an Iraqi of­fen­sive cap­tured Mo­sul, the mil­i­tants’ cap­i­tal in Iraq. — Reuters

UQAYRIBAT, Syria: Photo shows a gen­eral view of de­struc­tion, in the town of Uqayribat in Syria’s east­ern Hama coun­try­side. — AFP

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