US-led coalition destroys two bridges in IS-held Deir e-Zor, leaving civilians in the lurch

AMMAN: US-led coalition warplanes allegedly struck and disabled the last two bridges over the Euphrates river used by civilians in Islamic State-held eastern Deir e-Zor province earlier this week, virtually halting the vital cross-river trade that civilians there rely on.

The United States-led international coalition currently bombing IS-held positions in Syria reported that its warplanes “disabled” two bridges along “ISIL supply route[s]” on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Activists and news sites in Deir e-Zor also reported that two bridges were destroyed this week: one in the town of Mayadeen, the other in al-Eshara. Both are located roughly 45km and 60km downriver from Deir e-Zor city, respectively.

A video posted on Facebook Wednesday by local news site Deir Ezzor 24 shows the damaged al-Eshara bridge. Most of the structure is intact, with one section in the middle completely destroyed and folding into the river, rendering it impassable. Pictures of the Mayadeen bridge have also circulated online.

The coalition says it is targeting IS supply routes, but a Mayadeen resident and an activist monitoring events in Deir e-Zor told Syria Direct on Wednesday that IS can find alternatives to the destroyed infrastructure, while civilians cannot.

“The biggest impact will be on civilians,” Ahmad Ramadan, a member of the Deir e-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently media campaign told Syria Direct on Wednesday. Ramadan is not currently inside Syria, but is in contact with Deir e-Zor activists and residents.

“IS makes bridges” that civilians are not allowed to use, said Ramadan, “by using concrete drainage pipes, and putting dirt on top of that.” The group also reportedly has a number of rafts it can use to traverse the river.

 The al-Eshara bridge in IS-held Deir e-Zor province on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Wisam Muhammad.

Disabling the Mayadeen and al-Eshara bridges “can only affect heavy machinery like tanks and cannons,” he added.

The bridges linked villages on the northeast bank of the Euphrates river with cities on the opposite bank, meaning they served not only as supply routes for IS fighters, but also as lifelines for local civilians. Their destruction “effectively dismembers” the area, Murad, a resident of Mayadeen told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“Putting aside visits, relatives and relationships, the transport and trade of agricultural products and goods is the most important,” said Murad.

 The Mayadeen bridge on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Mayadeen News Network.

The towns and villages downriver from Deir e-Zor’s provincial capital—where regime forces hold their last territory in the eastern desert province—rely on local agricultural products: cotton, wheat, barley and some vegetables.  

Local trade near Mayadeen and al-Eshara depends on the exchange of crops grown on one side of the river for the goods sold on the other. It will not stop, Murad said, but become more difficult.

“People will use rowboats now, which can only move very small loads,” he told Syria Direct. “But this takes a lot of time and effort.”

Pictures circulated on social media on Wednesday purported to show civilians doing just that. Syria Direct could not verify the images.

Leaflets reportedly dropped by the US-led coalition over Deir e-Zor earlier this month warned civilians not to approach bridges in the area, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported earlier this month.

 Deir e-Zor residents cross the Euphrates by rowboat, reportedly on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Beloved Mayadeen.

“Coalition airstrikes are coming to destroy the bridges,” reads one leaflet in images posted online by the monitor. “For your safety, you must leave the bridges and roads leading to them now,” read another.

Murad, in Mayadeen, told Syria Direct that losing the bridges is the latest in a series of misfortunes for residents like him.

“Things are miserable,” he said. “There are shortages, the town is virtually cut off. There’s no aid. Most young men have been forced to flee.”

“People are between the hammer and anvil: the [coalition] planes, and the IS fighters.” 

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.