A Russian military helicopter flies over the Deir ez-Zor desert on September 15. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Russia has issued a warning to the US in Syria that they would retaliate if any attacks were made on Syrian regime forces in the Deir ez-Zor area amid growing tensions between the forces battling to take control of the oil-rich area from ISIS.
The US military command at their base in Qatar “was told in no uncertain terms that any attempts to open fire from areas where SDF fighters are located would be quickly shut down,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Thursday.
Russia is backing the Syrian army and pro-government militias who have approached ISIS-held Deir ez-Zor from the south and are battling ISIS in the city. At the same time, the US-led coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched an operation from the northwest, clearing ISIS from largely rural areas of Deir ez-Zor province north of the city of the same name.
Konashenkov said their allies have come under fire.
“Syrian forces have twice come under massive mortar and rocket artillery fire coming from the areas on the eastern bank of the Euphrates where SDF fighters and US special forces are deployed,” he stated.
“The firing positions in those areas will be immediately destroyed with all the arsenal at our disposal.”
The SDF has denied that they have fired on the Syrian forces.
“We are far from them, Daesh is between us,” Abu Khawla told The Associated Press using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “We didn’t fire a single bullet toward the regime” forces.
On the weekend, several SDF fighters were injured when their location was hit by Russian munitions, the coalition stated on Sunday.
While the SDF is currently focused on defeating ISIS, they had previously warned regime forces not to cross the Euphrates River. Deir ez-Zor city sits on the southern bank of the river. Khawla had earlier told Reuters that the city is not their current goal but could be in the future as the people do not want to be under Damascus rule.
The US and Russia maintain a deconfliction line in Syria.
A convoy of military equipment, vehicles, weapons, and ammunition was seen in northern Syria over the weekend. According to the conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the tens of trucks were destined for the SDF in Deir ez-Zor, who are being armed by the US.