Regime forces and foreign allies make contact with besieged units as ISIS falls back
Pro-Assad forces broke through the three-year Islamic State siege of Deir ez-Zor city in eastern Syria on Tuesday.
Advancing regime units and foreign allies made contacts with troops that had been surrounded by ISIS in the city, divided between the Islamic State and regime elements and surrounded by an ISIS which had controlled most of Deir ez-Zor Province.
Since entering the province last weekend, the advance pro-Assad force moved quickly to the east as ISIS fighters appeared to fall back on the city and their remaining positions in towns such as Mayadin and al-Bukamal, near the Iraq border. Russia has supported the advance with airstrikes and with Kalibr missiles fired from a warship in the Mediterranean.
“Our armed forces and allies, with support from Syrian and Russian warplanes, achieved the second phase of their operations in the Syrian desert,” the regime military said in a statement. “They have managed to break the siege.”
Footage of initial contact on the western edge of Deir ez-Zor city:
The nearby military airport and three districts of the city, with almost 100,000 civilians, are still cut off.
Provincial governor Mohammed Ibrahim Samra said the pro-Assad forces were moving on the airport and promised, “The coming days will see the clearing of Deir ez-Zor city.”
Bashar al-Assad offered congratulations in a statement.
The Lebanese leader, al-Hajj Muhammad Ja’afar, of the regime’s V Corps and fighters in front of a “Deir ez-Zor Welcomes You” sign:
UN Report Condemns Regime’s “Reconciliation” Agreements
UN investigators have criticized the Assad regime’s “reconciliation” agreements, the euphemism for forced capitulation of opposition areas through sieges, airstrikes, and bombardment, as well as challenging rebels for contributing to hardship in both opposition districts and regime enclaves
In a report for the UN Human Rights Council, the team reviewed the forced displacements this spring of residents and rebels from areas such as Madaya and Zabadani in Damascus Province and the Damascus suburbs of Qaboun and Barzeh:
Government forces and armed groups have routinely denied humanitarian evacuations for wounded and sick civilians and fighters until surrender (truces) and subsequent evacuation, granting it only in rare instances when exchanges between the four towns [Madaya, Zababani, and the regime enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya in Idlib Province] were negotiated. Civilians in Qab0un, for example, recalled using tunnels connecting Qaboun to eastern Ghouta, Damascus, to evacuate the wounded, although in-fighting between rebel factions affected the regularity of tunnel access.
The UN team emphasized testimony from residents that they had “no choice” but to leave. It notes how the displaced have been stripped of homes and possessions:
The Government has reportedly implemented legislative measures to dispossess dissenting populations of their property, and has raised legal and administrative measures to impede displaced persons from registering or retaining private property.
Recently issued presidential decrees require in-person registration and contestation of land titles countrywide. Requirements to register land titles or contest ownership in person would render it virtually impossible for many internally displaced persons and refugees to protect their properties.
In another section of the report, the investigators confirmed the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on 27 occasions, including a sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria that killed at least 92 people in April.