US-backed forces to start offensive for Syria's Deir al-Zor soon: SDF official
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will reportedly launch an offensive to oust Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants from Deir al-Zor province, an official from the alliance told Reuters on Aug. 25.
Ahmed Abu Khawla, head of the Deir al-Zor military council which fights under the SDF, said the assault might begin "within several weeks" in parallel with the battle for Raqqa city.
The SDF has been battling inside the historic Old City of Raqqa, ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria.
"The operation to liberate Deir al-Zor will begin very, very soon," Khawla said, adding that his unit had already "entered Deir al-Zor territory and liberated several towns" there.
Syria's government backed by Russia, Iran and Shi'ite militias, is engaged in its own campaign in eastern Syria aimed at relieving its besieged enclave in Deir al-Zor.
The Syrian army is advancing along the south and west bank of the Euphrates towards where the city of Deir al-Zor is located, while the SDF is mostly on the north and east bank, where Raqqa is located.
Meanwhile, at least 34 Syrian soldiers and allied fighters have been killed in an ISIL counterattack in east of Raqqa, rolling back army gains, a monitor said Aug. 25.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the jihadist group had recaptured large swathes of territory from government forces in the fighting on Aug. 24.
In the counterattack, ISIL “made major progress and... expanded the area under its control along the southern bank of the Euphrates,” the Observatory said.
“ISIL has managed to push regime forces back 30 kilometres from the western outskirts of Madan,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Elsewhere, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said that the group has captured much of an ISIL pocket on Syria’s side of the border with Lebanon in a joint offensive with the Syrian army.
In parallel with the fighting, talks on a truce have begun with ISIL but a military victory is more likely, Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Aug. 24.
Syrian troops and Hezbollah have been fighting to oust ISIL from Syria’s western Qalamoun region.
The attack began last week, coinciding with a Lebanese army offensive against ISIL on its side of the border in northeast Lebanon.
The zone straddling the border is the last part of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier under militant control.
The frontier battle was nearing a “very big victory”, Nasrallah said.