Syria regime forces closer to besieging ISIL militants
MOSCOW – Agence France-PresseSyrian government troops came closer yesterday to encircling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a pocket of Deir Ezzor city after crossing the adjacent Euphrates River, Moscow and a monitoring group said.
Russian-backed Syrian forces are trying to tighten the noose around ISIL jihadists still inside the eastern city, which lies on the western banks of the Euphrates. The army has sealed off the city from three sides, but ISIL still controlled eastern districts along the river, which both jihadists and civilians had used as an escape route.
Yesterday, elite Syrian troops crossed the river, Russia’s defense ministry said.
“Today, Syrian government forces, reinforced by a unit of the 4th Armoured Division and with the support of Russian aviation, crossed the Euphrates River in the Deir Ezzor region,” the ministry said in a statement
It said “shock troops” had already captured several villages on the river’s eastern banks from ISIL and were pushing further east. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP that Syrian commandos and reconnaissance units had crossed the river using a floating bridge.
“This paves the way for completely besieging the city,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Euphrates slices diagonally across the province of Deir Ezzor, an oil-rich region that borders Iraq.
Until yesterday, Syrian troops had been fighting only west of the Euphrates, while the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces waged a rival offensive against ISIL to the river’s east.
The SDF has captured more than 500 square kilometers from ISIL in northeastern parts of the province, according to the U.S.-led coalition.