Heavy fighting hits last IS pocket in eastern Syria
Heavy battles were raging yesterday between US-backed Kurdish Syrian fighters and Islamic State militants in the terrorist group’s last pocket in eastern Syria.
In recent months, the oilrich province of Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria has seen clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led group allied with the US, and the extremists.
“Our fighters managed to take the neighbourhood of Hawma, one of the first districts of Hajeen,” SDF spokesman Ahmed Mohamed said.
Hajeen is the largest town in the Islamic State’s last pocket in eastern Syria.
Islamic State has gradually been driven back in the multifaceted civil war, which began in 2011 with various opposition groups taking on government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“Bad weather including heavy fog is not helping our fighters move faster,” Mohamed said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britainbased war monitor, reported that the fighting has resulted in the deaths of 42 Islamic State militants and 36 SDF fighters since Monday.
The SDF forces are in control of more than 70% of Hajeen, the observatory said, a report that the Kurdish militia did not confirm.
At least 600 civilians have fled Hajeen for SDF areas on the east of the Euphrates River in Deir al-Zorr since November 30, the monitor said.
The number of civilians who are still trapped inside the embattled town remains unknown.
The observatory said Islamic State extremists were executing
civilians caught while attempting to flee Hajeen, accusing them of heading to “areas of infidelity.”
The areas under Islamic State control in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor have experienced the heaviest airstrikes from a US-led coalition since the SDF forces started an operation to expel the radical group from the area in September, the watchdog said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said yesterday that air strikes and ground battles had displaced 16,500 people from Hajeen, most of whom have sought shelter in villages on the north-eastern side of the Euphrates.
“WFP has provided readyto-eat rations for all those displaced, in addition to the 33,500 most vulnerable individuals in the host communities receiving the displaced families, totalling 50,000,” the agency said in a statement released in Geneva.
The SDF has played a major
role in fighting Islamic State in war-torn Syria.
In Syria’s north-western province of Idlib, the last key opposition stronghold in the country, violence over the last week has displaced 15,000 people towards governmentheld areas in the adjacent province of Hama, according to WFP.
In recent weeks, southern and eastern Idlib have witnessed an escalation in violence in the form of artillery attacks against armed groups from the Syrian government forces and infighting among rival armed groups.
In September, Russia and Turkey reached a deal to establish a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib, a move that prevented a major government offensive there.
Militants have remained in the area despite an October 15 deadline to withdraw. An intermittent exchange of shelling by government forces and rebels there has since been reported.