Syria army breaks years-long ISIL siege on Deir al-Zor
DEIR AL-ZOR – Agence France-PresseSyria’s army broke a years-long Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) siege on the government enclave of Deir Ezzor city on Tuesday as it battles to expel the jihadists from a key stronghold.
The jihadist group has already lost more than half of its nearby bastion of Raqqa to U.S.-backed forces, and the loss of Deir al-Zor city and the surrounding oil-rich province of the same name would leave it with only a handful of isolated outposts.
Syria’s army and allied fighters, backed by Russian air support, have been advancing toward Deir al-Zor on several fronts in recent weeks, and on Sept. 5 arrived inside the Brigade 137 base on its western edge.
“The Syrian Arab Army this afternoon broke the siege on Deir al-Zor city after its advancing forces arrived from the western province to Brigade 137,” state news agency SANA said.
“This great achievement is a strategic shift in the war on terror and confirms the ability of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies,” the army command said.
A local journalist contributing to AFP on the ground said a minesweeper moved ahead of troops as they arrived at the base.
As they reached the soldiers who have been besieged inside the base and adjacent parts of the city, the troops embraced and shouted patriotic slogans.
Others fired in the air and flashed victory signs, as Syrian and Russian warplanes flew overhead.
Civilians gathered on either side of the road connecting the base to neighborhoods of the city to welcome the arriving troops.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad congratulated troops in a call to commanders at the base, his office said.
“Today you stood side-by-side with your comrades who came to your rescue and fought the hardest battles to break the siege on the city,” he said.
A source in the Deir Ezzor governorate said trucks loaded with food and medicine were expected to arrive inside the besieged city from Aleppo.
Government forces and tens of thousands of civilians in the city have been trapped under ISIL siege for over two years, facing food and medical shortages.
Early this year, the government-held parts of the city were cut in two by an ISIL offensive.
The army’s advance on Sept. 5 breaks the siege on the northern part of the city, but a southern section, which includes a key military airport, remains surrounded, with the army now 15 kilometers away.
Around 100,000 people are believed to be inside government-held areas of Deir al-Zor, with perhaps 10,000 more in parts of the city held by ISIL.
Earlier on Sept. 5, the national flag was raised throughout government-held areas of the city in anticipation of celebrations upon the arrival of government soldiers.
Some residents had begun greeting each other with “Good morning of victory.”
The army still faces a potentially difficult battle to break the siege on the south of the city and free its remaining neighborhoods, and the surrounding province, from ISIL.