Saturday 29 April 2017

Syrian town of 150,000 surrounded in Isil attack

Rebel fighters on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria. Photo: Reuters
Rebel fighters on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria. Photo: Reuters

Josie Ensor Beirut

Isil launched a large-scale attack in eastern Syria yesterday, in an attempt to secure another stronghold as it loses territory in neighbouring Iraq.

Jihadists stormed and captured parts of Deir Ezzor, leaving at least 150,000 residents in the government-controlled areas of the city surrounded.

The exchanges began on Friday, when Isil cut off roads to the nearby airport.

At least 82 people have been killed so far in the fighting, which is the heaviest in the city for a year, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Isil has held most of Deir Ezzor and the surrounding area since 2015, but the government had until now retained control of the airport and neighbouring districts in the city.

Deir Ezzor, located on the Euphrates river just south of the group's self-declared capital Raqqa and next to Iraq, is strategically important for the group.

Forced

It is thought Isil may be trying to establish it as a stronghold, looking to secure territory for senior leaders forced out of Iraq by the army's offensive on Mosul.

The US-led coalition, as well as the Russians, have been bombing the jihadists in Deir Ezzor for the past 18 months but have been unable to dislodge them.

The US had trained a group of moderate rebel fighters to take on Isil in Deir Ezzor, but most were either captured or killed.

It is thought the terrorist group sent in reinforcements from other areas to bolster their numbers for the latest attack.

Isil has increasingly been on the offensive in central and eastern Syria, which some experts say is to compensate for its losses in Iraq's second city.

Last month, fighters managed to storm Palmyra in a surprise attack, recapturing the Unesco heritage city with little resistance from the beleaguered Syrian army.

Its recent gains demonstrate Isil's continuing military threat.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebel groups yesterday agreed to attend peace talks in Kazakhstan, in a boost to Russia's diplomatic attempts to end the war.

The talks are expected to build on a nationwide truce that began on December 30 and initially saw a drop in violence across many of Syria's battlefronts.

"All the rebel groups are going. Everyone has agreed," Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure in the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, said.

"We want to end this series of crimes." (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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