Syrian army fights to secure corridor into Deir Ezzor

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) BEIRUT — The Syrian army and its allies are fighting to secure and expand a precarious corridor to their comrades in Deir Ezzor, a day after they smashed through the Daesh terror group lines to break the exremist siege

The army reached Deir Ezzor city on Tuesday in a sudden, days-long thrust that followed months of steady advances east across the desert, breaking a siege that had lasted three years.

However, Daesh counterattacks lasted through the night, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as the exremists tried to repel the army.

It points to a tough battle ahead as the army aims to move from breaching the siege to driving Daesh from its half of the city, the sort of street-by-street warfare in which the exremists excel.

"The next step is to liberate the city," a non-Syrian commander in the military alliance backing President Bashar Assad said.

Assad and his allies — Russia, Iran and Shiite militias including Hizbollah — will follow the relief of Deir Ezzor with an offensive along the Euphrates valley, the commander said.

The Euphrates valley cuts a lush, populous swathe of green about 260km long and 10km wide through the Syrian desert from Raqqa to the Iraqi border at Al Bukamal.

The area has been Daesh's stronghold in Syria but came under attack this year when a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias besieged and assaulted Raqqa.

Rapidly losing territory in Syria and Iraq, Daesh is falling back on the Euphrates towns downstream of Deir Ezzor, including Al Mayadin and Al Bukamal, where many expect it to make a last stand.

Still, the exremist group specialises in urban combat, using car bombs, mines, tunnels and drones, and has held out against full-scale attack for months in some towns and cities.

It has 6,000-8,000 fighters left in Syria, despite losing most of its territory across both Iraq and Syria since September 2014, the United States-led coalition said.


Parallel with their thrust towards Deir Ezzor, the Syrian army and its allies have been fighting Daesh in its last pocket of ground in central Syria, near the town of Al Salamiya on the Homs-Aleppo highway.

On Wednesday, army advances gained control of four villages there, further tightening the pocket, a military media unit run by Assad's ally Hizbollah reported. A Syrian military source said warplanes struck Daesh targets in that area, destroying a command centre.

In Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, backed by the US-led coalition, says it has taken about 65 per cent of the exremists' former de facto capital in Syria.

Deir Ezzor lies along the southwest bank of the Euphrates. The government enclave includes the northern half of the city and the Brigade 137 military base to the west.

The government also holds an air base and nearby streets, separated from the rest of the enclave by hundreds of metres of Daesh-held ground and still cut off from the advancing army.

Instead of breaking the siege along the main road from Palmyra, stretches of which remain in Daesh hands, the army reached the Brigade 137 along a narrow salient from the northwest.

'Work is progressing to secure the route and widen the flanks so as not to be cut or targeted by Daesh,' the commander said.

The route from the west into Brigade 137 is only about 500 metres wide, the commander said.

Daesh counter-attacks in that area managed to cut the corridor into the enclave for several hours on Tuesday night using six car bombs, the observatory reported.

The army will also push towards the still besieged airbase, southwards from the Brigade 137 camp and eastwards along the main highway, the commander said.


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