AMMAN: A convoy loaded with food for thousands of people entered a Deir e-Zor district on Thursday, a resident and activist told Syria Direct, the first such aid delivery since Islamic State forces laid siege to the city three years ago.
On Tuesday, regime forces broke through Islamic State (IS) front lines in the provincial desert capital to reach one of two government-controlled pockets encircled by IS forces. Those two districts, one in the city’s west, which includes the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) Brigade 137 garrison, and the second to the south, home to a regime airbase, have been two islands surrounded by the Islamic State since 2014. The aid has gone to the western quarter, while the southern pocket remains encircled.
The regime victory earlier this week ended the siege of the western, and more populous quarter, allowing food and supplies to enter for the first time in more than three years. Roughly half of the city still remains occupied by the Islamic State.
The endgame of the regime’s current campaign remains unclear. At the very least, Assad’s forces appear to be seeking to reopen a permanent supply line to the two encircled districts that remain under its control.
“Army units continued the military operations against the remaining ISIS terrorists on the western axis of the city, establishing control of the strategic bridge into the city in parallel with expanding control in the areas surrounding Brigade 137,” state news outlet SANA reported on Thursday. Regime forces punched through the Islamic State’s encirclement of the pocket of neighborhoods encompassing Brigade 137 on Tuesday.
The delivery to the western quarter, composed of several smaller districts, on Thursday comes two days after regime forces breached the siege, in what Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called a “resounding victory” against the Islamic State.
Before regime forces reached the city on Tuesday, tens of thousands of residents survived for years on airdrops of food and other aid supplies. Some subsisted on grass and “boiled branches,” residents told Syria Direct in May.
Thursday’s delivery is not enough to sustain the thousands of people in Deir e-Zor’s newly opened western pocket, one resident told Syria Direct on Thursday, despite pro-regime media reports of dozens of aid delivery trucks entering the city.
On Thursday morning, “a large truck arrived bringing supplies of powdered milk,” Khoula, a woman in Deir e-Zor’s previously besieged Qasour district told Syria Direct.
Deir e-Zor city on Thursday. Photo courtesy of SANA.
“But I didn’t receive a single package,” Khoula added. She described a “clamor” of thousands of residents pushing over one another to receive aid packages, as neighbors told her of small quantities of potatoes and eggs reaching nearby neighborhoods.
Deir e-Zor provincial governor Mohammad Ibrahim Samra told state press on Thursday that “30 trucks carrying food materials, health substances, stationery, fruits and vegetables” would be distributed to civilians starting Friday.
An estimated 14 trucks headed “directly” toward regime soldiers on the outskirts of the city Thursday afternoon, after “driving through the streets so that the people could see them,” Ahmad Ibrahim, a Turkey-based activist from Deir e-Zor with contacts on the ground told Syria Direct. Syria Direct could not independently confirm his claim.
“At best, an [aid convoy] of this size is enough to last four or six weeks,” Ibrahim added. But on Thursday afternoon, both Ibrahim and Khoula said civilians were “forbidden” from using the highway to leave their district for the city’s outskirts, where the delivery trucks were reportedly parked.