Displaced Syrians from Deir ez-Zor walk at a make-shift camp some 7 kilometres from Arisha in the neighbouring province of Hasakeh on August 13. Photo: Ayham al-Mohammed | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Syrian army along with its allies have advanced on ISIS from the central Syrian desert towards the ISIS hotbed of Deir ez-Zor, according to multiple media reports.
The Syrian army and its allies took a number of villages around the town of al-Koum in the northeast of Homs province (close to the border with Deir ez-Zor province), Reuters quoted an unnamed Syrian military source as saying.
The town of al-Sukhna about 25 kilometers south of al-Koum was also taken by the Syrian army on Saturday. However, the gap between the two towns is still controlled by ISIS.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime’s primary backer Russia also took part in the operations, according to Russia’s Defence Ministry.
To the southeast, Syrian forces backed by Iran have also recently crossed over into Deir ez-Zor province.
The Syrian army clashed with ISIS southwest of Deir ez-Zor and the regime’s air force conducted airstrikes on the city and its surroundings, Syria’s state-news SANA reported on Monday.
ISIS controls nearly all of Deir ez-Zor province which borders Iraq, but the Syrian government still holds a small amount of territory in the city along with a military base.
Deir ez-Zor is located in the Middle Euphrates Valley that stretches from the Albu-Kamal-Al Qaim border crossing with Iraq in the east, along the river northwest to Mayadin, then to Deir ez-Zor city.
If the Syrian army, along with its allies Russia using air power and Iranian fighters on the ground, are able to close the gap, ISIS militants to the west will be encircled in an area of land of almost 8,000 square kilometers, based on a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
To the north, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been involved in operations to retake Raqqa.
"After Raqqa has been taken from ISIS and the local population, those who are from the area, are in control there will be still be ISIS in northern Syria. There are still about 5,000 fighters along the middle of the Euphrates River Valley,” the US-led anti-ISIS coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon said in late July.
There had been reports of Kurdish fighters pushing south towards Deir ez-Zor.
"As far as Deir ez-Zor, we'll have to see what happens after ISIS has been defeated in Raqqa,” added Dillon. “We'll have to see where everyone else is on the battlefield.”
In a statement distributed in Deir ez-Zor in early August, ISIS called on all men between 20 and 30 who are able to fight to head to mobilization offices within a week or face punishment.
SANA reported on Monday that ISIS executed three young men charged with fighting against them east of Deir ez-Zor.