3 min read  | Deir e-Zor, Interviews, Politics

ISIS seeking to tighten grip over Deir e-Zor


June 23, 2014

June 23, 2014

Fighting in Deir e-Zor province has increased over the past two weeks as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) intensifies efforts to solidify control over the eastern province. The oil-rich Deir e-Zor, which shares a border with Iraq, is locked in a three-way battle between ISIS, the regime and opposition fighters led by Jabhat a-Nusra.

One of the epicenters of fighting has been Deir e-Zor city, the provincial capital, where opposition fighters who control part of the city have been under siege since ISIS captured the a-Siyasiya Bridge on the Euphrates River on June 3.

The bridge is the main supply route into the city, and is critical to controlling it. Last Thursday, rebels and ISIS reached an agreement to allow food aid into the city, which had an estimated pre-war population of 200,000.

The regime controls three main positions in and around Deir e-Zor: a military base, the al-Jabal area that overlooks the city with artillery and the position of Brigade 137. All three are close to the regime-controlled al-Qusour and al-Jora neighborhoods in the city.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, ISIS captured both sides of al-Qaim border crossing between Deir e-Zor and Iraq, allowing ISIS to freely move weapons and troops across the borders. ISIS and other Iraqi Sunni militant forces first took the Iraqi side of the border before seizing control of the Syrian side shortly afterwards. Gunmen linked to opposition fighters and a-Nusra were previously in control of the Syrian side but retreated Friday night, Al Arabiya reported.

Al-Qaim is located on the main road that follows the Euphrates River from Iraq and passes through Deir e-Zor city and ISIS-controlled Raqqa city in Syria.

“Clashes may begin at any time,” Wisam al-Arab, a 26 year-old independent journalist who lives east of the city, tells Mohammed al-Haj Ali. ISIS has already brought captured Iraqi weapons to Deir e-Zor by way of Hasaka, he said.

Q: Has ISIS transported any weapons to Deir e-Zor through the Iraqi borders?

There are more than 50 pieces of military equipment (Hummers, armored vehicles, artillery and ammunition) that came to al-Shadadi from Hasaka. It is easy to deliver these vehicles to Deir e-Zor to be used in the battles. The activity of ISIS in Iraq forced them to delay military activity in Deir e-Zor, but it is imminently expected that the clashes may begin at any time.

Hawiqa Deir e-Zor w3abridge

Q: Does the regime still control al-Qusour and al-Jora neighborhoods? Or has it progressed to control other neighborhoods?

The regime still controls these two neighborhoods entirely. It has not made any progress on the other fronts in Deir e-Zor. The regime tried more than once to progress and control al-Hawika neighborhood in order to reach the a-Siyasiya Bridge, the only crossing for rebels that provides the liberated neighborhoods with military and medical equipment and aid.

Q: Activists launched the “Deir e-Zor needs your help” campaign, did it achieve any results?

A: It didn’t achieve anything on ground. ISIS still controls the al-Siyasiya crossing and still controls all humanitarian or military aid from entering the city with the excuse of the presence of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front. The number of people fleeing the conflict after the military campaign of ISIS in Deir e-Zor province is now more than 200,000.

Q: Is the regime fighting ISIS in Deir e-Zor?

There are no clashes between the regime and ISIS. ISIS in Deir e-Zor is limited to fighting only fighting rebel battalions. There have been no air raids on the ISIS sites, and the regime bombing targeted only the liberated areas and al-Bukalaml district.

Q: Talk about the non-ISIS opposition, including the rebel-led Military Council and the Islamic Front?

I was surprised [last Wednesday] that the leader of the rebel military council in the city, Mohsen, pledged loyalty to ISIS. He also pledged [fealty] to a number of officers in the joint command of ISIS. Mohsen issued a video statement explaining that he will participate with ISIS but [I think] the statement was just to bring in support and funding.

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