Clos­ing in

Rus­sia fires cruise mis­siles at IS strong­hold in east Syria

Truro Daily News - - WORLD - By Nataliya Vasilyeva

Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary fired seven cruise mis­siles Thurs­day at Is­lamic State tar­gets in the east­ern Syrian prov­ince of Deir el-Zour as pro-gov­ern­ment forces closed in on the mil­i­tants holed up in the epony­mous cap­i­tal.

Jour­nal­ists on a trip or­ga­nized by the Rus­sian De­fence Min­istry watched from the deck of Rus­sia’s Ad­mi­ral Essen frigate as two sub­marines launched seven mis­siles from the Mediter­ranean Sea.

The Syrian gov­ern­ment forces, backed by Rus­sian air cover, last week broke a three-year siege around the city on the Euphrates river.

Min­istry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenko­v told re­porters later that in­tel­li­gence showed the mis­siles hit the tar­gets south­east of Deir el-Zour, de­stroy­ing a com­mand cen­tre, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions hub, an am­mu­ni­tion de­pot and an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of IS fighters.

Rus­sia has pro­vided mil­i­tary back­ing for Syrian President Bashar As­sad’s forces since 2015. It has re­peat­edly fired salvoes of Kal­ibr mis­siles into Syria, from both sur­face war­ships and sub­marines. It has also launched cruise mis­siles from strate­gic bombers.

An As­so­ci­ated Press re­porter on the deck of the Ad­mi­ral Essen frigate saw three mis­siles and later four more fly­ing into the air, leav­ing trails of smoke. Two sub­marines emerged and were vis­i­ble on the hori­zon shortly af­ter.

Backed by an in­tense aerial cam­paign, Syrian and al­lied forces pushed their way to­ward the city last week, break­ing a nearly three­year siege on its troops on the west­ern edge of Deir el-Zour. It was a ma­jor sym­bolic vic­tory for the pro-gov­ern­ment forces. Since then, they have been bat­tling rem­nants of the mil­i­tants in­side the city, seiz­ing more than 60 per

cent of it. On Thurs­day, the pro­gov­ern­ment forces were clos­ing in at the ex­trem­ists from three sides along the river, pound­ing al-Boghe­liyah neigh­bour­hood on the north­west­ern edge of the city.

The mil­i­tants are cur­rently en­cir­cled by Syrian troops from three sides, with their backs to the Euphrates River. How­ever, they still con­trol ru­ral ar­eas out­side the city and the bor­der with Iraq.

As IS reels from sig­nif­i­cant losses in Syria and Iraq, there is a race for con­trol of the bor­der with Iraq, cur­rently still in the mil­i­tants’ hands. U.S.-backed Syrian forces are mean­while ad­vanc­ing in the sur­round­ing prov­ince from the east and north, on the other side of the river.

Bassem Aziz, a spokesman for the U.S-backed and Kur­dish-led Syrian Demo­cratic Forces, said his troops have taken con­trol of an in­dus­trial area on the east­ern bank of the river, a few miles from

the gov­ern­ment troops. Aziz said they are about six kilo­me­tres away from the city’s east­ern en­trance.

In its state­ment last week, the U.S-led coali­tion said it will back its part­ners on the ground to de­feat IS and “will do our ut­most to en­sure that (IS) ter­ror­ists do not move to­ward the bor­der of our Iraqi part­ners.

Overnight, a convoy of Is­lamic State mil­i­tants and their rel­a­tives be­ing evac­u­ated from the bor­der with Le­banon has crossed into Deir el-Zour from a desert area in cen­tral Syria, end­ing a stand­off with the U.S-led coali­tion that briefly over­shad­owed the race for the prov­ince.

The evac­u­a­tion, ne­go­ti­ated by Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah group, re­moved the mil­i­tants from the Syria-Le­banon bor­der but an­gered Iraq and the U.S., which said they should have been killed on the bat­tle­field not moved to the Iraq bor­der.

The deal reached at the end of Au­gust al­lowed hun­dreds of mil­i­tants and their fam­i­lies to re­lo­cate to Bouka­mal, an IS-held Syrian town near the Iraqi bor­der, in ex­change for IS-held pris­on­ers and the re­mains of Le­banese sol­diers cap­tured in 2014. One sur­viv­ing Hezbol­lah fighter was re­turned to Le­banon Thurs­day.

The head of the Bri­tain-based Syrian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights Rami Ab­dur­rah­man said buses and ve­hi­cles car­ry­ing about 400 mil­i­tants and civil­ians crossed into Deir el-Zour prov­ince Wed­nes­day. It was not clear where the buses went.

The U.S-led coali­tion struck the road the convoy was trav­el­ling on, leav­ing it stranded in the desert for about two weeks, though some ve­hi­cles were able to slip into mil­i­tant-held ter­ri­tory. The U.S. said it did not strike the convoy it­self be­cause of the pres­ence of civil­ians.


Sol­diers dis­trib­ute Rus­sian hu­man­i­tar­ian aid at the check-point of the de-es­ca­la­tion zones near Homs, Syria.

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