Since losing the al-Baghlia neighborhood of Deir e-Zor city to Islamic State fighters 10 days ago, opposition sources say that regime forces in the eastern provincial capital have arrested and conscripted scores of military-aged men, aged 18-45.
Today, the regime-held al-Jorah and Qusour neighborhoods in northern Deir e-Zor, “the streets are completely empty of young men,” the pro-opposition Local Coordination Committee posted to Facebook on Sunday.
Deir e-Zor residents wait for water on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Deir e-Zor Life Observatory.
Control of the contested provincial capital is roughly split between regime and IS forces, the latter gaining ground in recent weeks amidst ongoing fighting. The Assad regime holds neighborhoods in the city’s northwest and southeast, home to 180,000 residents, alongside military institutions and an airport south of Deir e-Zor city.
The loss of al-Baghlia tightens the noose around some of those trapped in regime-held Deir e-Zor, says Muhammad Hasan, a Deir e-Zor-based journalist with pro-opposition Sound and Picture.
“There are people who were dragged to fight after partial weapons training, not enough for them to join in a battle, and now they are on the fronts,” Hasan tells Syria Direct’s Alaa Nassar.
Q: What reason does the regime have to arrest young men at this time in particular? How many have been arrested, and where have they been taken?
University students, state employees and civilians aged 18 to 45 have been arrested, with no exceptions, even for those with [military service] deferments to study or [exemptions] because they are the only son.
The regime has detained around 200 people in the al-Jorah and al-Qusour neighborhoods, who have been moved to a military base and Liwa 137 [near the city] for two or three days of training.
From there, they will be given weapons and put on the fighting fronts with IS around the al-Baghlia neighborhood, the Deir e-Zor military airport and Liwa 137.
Young men in regime areas and military units give us information and pictures. There are people who were dragged to fight after partial weapons training, not enough for them to join in a battle, and now they are on the fronts.
Q: How have residents responded to this? Have there been protests or thoughts of fleeing?
Residents can’t express their view by protests or by leaving to other areas, because the regime prevents civilians in encircled areas from leaving.
Only families close to the regime or who pay around $1,000 per person can leave.
Q: What is the situation in al-Jourah and al-Qusour under the IS blockade?
IS has blockaded both al-Jourah and al-Qusour for more than a year, leading to terrible living and health conditions, but the situation has become worse since IS took control of al-Baghlia west of the city. They declared it a military zone and vacated its residents.
[Al-Baghlia] was the only outlet for food and fuel to be smuggled in from IS-controlled areas by traders, corrupt IS members and some of those in the neighborhood. After IS took control on January 16, those operations stopped.
It was also the source of vegetables for the blockaded [regime] neighborhoods because it was the only regime-held area with agricultural land. Those neighborhoods have lost their supply of seasonal vegetables.
Most importantly, the regime participates in the blockade by not providing for the needs of the people even though it has the ability to do so since it is connected to Damascus through the air [via the nearby Deir e-Zor military airport].
It could set aside a cargo plane to bring in food and supplies periodically and put an end to the civilians’ suffering, but it has not done so.
On the contrary, recent shipments of food from Damascus to the civilians and supplies airdropped by Russian planes have been taken by the regime [forces] in Deir e-Zor, who sell them to traders and civilians on the black market at prices 10 times higher than market value.