SDF fighters in Raqqa. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will not allow Syrian army forces to cross the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zor province and reestablish control over the area.
The Syrian government is “not fit to lead and rule the people,” said an SDF commander, Abu Khawla, Reuters reported.
The SDF’s Deir ez-Zor Military Council is leading the offensive that is approaching Deir ez-Zor city from the north, clearing ISIS from rural areas of the eastern Syrian province that borders Iraq. Simultaneously, regime forces and their allies have pushed west over the summer and are currently fighting ISIS in the city of Deir ez-Zor.
“Now we have 3 kilometres between us and the eastern riverbank, once our forces reach the area, any shot fired into that area we will consider an attack on the military council,” Khawla said, explaining that government forces and their allies have fired across the river recently.
“We have notified the regime and Russia that we are coming to the Euphrates riverbank, and they can see our forces advancing,” he said. “We do not allow the regime or its militias to cross to the eastern riverbank.”
Deir ez-Zor city lies on the western bank of the river. According to Russia, regime forces have already crossed the river, however.
Government forces continue to liberate suburbs of Deir ez-Zor and have “crossed the Euphrates and gained a foothold on the eastern bank,” said Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, in a weekly news briefing on Friday.
Moscow is a key ally of Damascus. Russian military engineers are now working with the Syrian army to clear explosives left behind by ISIS in areas they have retaken, Zakharova detailed.
Khawla said that the goal of their forces is to liberate every village on the eastern bank of the Euphrates up to the border with Iraq. “We are moving forcefully and quickly,” he said.
The SDF, backed by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, has a system of deconfliction with the regime, via Russia. Deir ez-Zor city is not the goal of the SDF, according to the coalition.
“I’ll just tell you that the plan is not to go into Deir ez-Zor city, but there (are) plenty of ISIS fighters and resources and leaders that continue to have holdouts throughout the middle Euphrates River valley,” coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters on Thursday.
Khawla said that the city was not their goal at the moment, but said it could be in the future as the people do not want to be under Damascus rule.
The SDF announced this week the intent to establish a civil council to govern Deir ez-Zor after the military campaign. They have formed a group of elders and tribal leaders to discuss founding such a council, similar to what has been established in Manbij, Tabqa, and Raqqa.