Syrian government army seizes Deir Al-Zor from IS militants

Isis chemical weapons: Militants use ‘mustard gas’ against Syrian forces in battle for Deir ez-Zor airport [The Independent]
Syrian government forces on Tuesday reached troops besieged for years by Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, the militants’ last major stronghold in Syria, the army said.

Tanks and troops pressed quickly toward a government-held enclave in the city, where Islamic State has trapped thousands of civilians and Syrian soldiers since 2014. The advance has opened a land route linking that territory to the outside.

The advance into strategic prize Deir al-Zor, a city on the Euphrates river and once the center of Syria’s oil industry, is a significant victory for President Bashar al-Assad against Islamic State and another stinging blow to the group.

The group is being fought in Syria by government forces, backed by allies Iran and Russia, and separately by a U.S.-led alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters. In Iraq, the jihadists were driven out of their Mosul stronghold earlier this year.

Islamic State still holds half of Deir al-Zor city and much of the province, however, as well as parts of its former stronghold Raqqa to the northwest, where the U.S.-backed offensive is being fought.

“Our armed forces and allies, with support from Syrian and Russian warplanes, achieved the second phase of their operations in the Syrian desert,” Syria’s military said. “They have managed to break the siege.”

State media and a war monitoring group said advancing forces had linked up with the besieged troops at a garrison on the western edge of the city.

Footage on Syrian state TV showed soldiers cheering near the garrison. State media said residents in government-held parts of the city were celebrating the advance.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a nearby military air base and three districts remained under siege by IS. Battles still raged around the city, the British-based war monitor said.

Deir al-Zor governor Mohammed Ibrahim Samra told Reuters that government troops were also pushing toward the air base.

“The forces have begun to lift the siege,” he said. “Our residents have been waiting for this moment … forces are (trying to) break the siege on the military airport as well.”

“The coming days will see the clearing of Deir al-Zor city (of militants)” and advances on nearby countryside under Islamic State control, Samra added.

Assad congratulated the troops in a statement from his office.

The army and its allies made rapid advances in recent days pushing through Islamic State lines with the help of heavy artillery and Russian air strikes.

A Russian warship in the Mediterranean sea fired cruise missiles at Islamic State positions near Deir al-Zor to boost the offensive, Russia’s defense ministry said.

(Source: Reuters)

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