April 25, 2013
By Ahmed Kwider
Opposition activists and fighters say that Deir e-Zor province is close to being entirely freed from regime control, with an FSA spokesman saying the largest amount of opposition-controlled territory is in the northeastern province.
“The Free Syrian Army rules Deir e-Zor,” says Omar Abu Laila, the province’s FSA spokesman.
The regime may still hold the regional military airport and other military posts, but “they are exhausted,” said Mouayed Ali, an FSA fighter currently battling the Syrian army for control of the air-defense base. “I can now move freely through the streets of Deir e-Zor [city],” he added.
Ali estimated the base would fall in 10 days. “Assad’s battalions have begun to remove the heavy surface-to-surface missiles at the airports and the battalion nearby – this is what they usually do before giving up or fleeing.”
While the regime’s hold weakens, squabbling intensifies over who controls the region’s vast oil fields. Earlier this week, Gen. Selim Idriss, the head of the FSA’s Supreme Milistary Council, told the Financial Times he “hoped not to have a battle” with armed groups such as Jabhat a-Nusra over the oil fields.
The regime appears to control only the al-Omar oil field in rural al-Mayadeen. Armed groups such as , hold an unclear number of fields and at least one gas station, tasked with providing citizens in the area subsidized fuel.
The rebels are looking for investors who can provide air cover so they can exploit and sell the oil. “We will commit to any deal to invest in oil if air cover is provided,” Abu Laila said. “We will provide protection for those who want to invest, provided they negotiate with the rebels inside.”
As the FSA and its affiliated groups tick off the days until they declare the entire province “liberated,” the regime continues to fight back. On Thursday, regime forces’ artillery and shelling targeted the al-Kharitah area of the province, while heavy fighting between the FSA and regime forces took place in the al-Jubailah and Assinaah districts of Deir e-Zor city.
“As I’m talking to you, three missiles just landed on the village of a-Taibah close to al-Mayadeen,” Ali said.