Islamic State counter-attacks in Deir ez-Zor Province, rebels claims killing of dozens of regime troops in and near Damascus
The Assad regime’s military faces questions about its effectiveness, even after recent advances backed by foreign forces and Russian airpower, after attacks by both the Islamic State and rebel factions on separate fronts in Syria on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Islamic State, which has been pushed back into parts of Deir ez-Zor Province this summer by a pro-Assad offensive, counter-attacked on three fronts yesterday. ISIS claimed that one of the assaults cut the main road between Deir ez-Zor city and Palmyra in central Syria, while another is threatening to retake the town of Sukhna in eastern Homs Province, captured by pro-Assad forces in early August.
The ISIS outlet Amaq said that operations including suicide bombers had also captured two Russian troops. The Russian Defense Ministry, citing an official at the Hmeimim air base in western Syria, rejected the claim.
Observers noted ISIS reports of the capture of other, smaller towns and villages. The group appeared to have retaken territory along the Euphrates where Russia had built two pontoon bridges and close to where a Russian general was killed — the highest-ranking Russian fatality since 1991 — last weekend.
Naba says ISIS captured two Russian soldiers; three villages; seized control of mountains overlooking Sukhnah. Dozens killed etc pic.twitter.com/LsvpUntjaH
— Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan) September 29, 2017
The Assad regime’s military maintained that it had thwarted the attack on the road and the town of al-Shoula, “They received a blow and did not succeed.”
But the pro-Assad site al-Masdar acknowledged the ISIS advance: “The Syrian Arab Army’s elite forces departed from the northern countryside of the Hama Governorate to western Deir ez-Zor after suffering several setbacks to the so-called Islamic State terror organization.”
A vocal pro-Assad activist tweeted about the defeats along the road between Homs and Deir ez-Zor Provinces:
All Syrian Army sites along on Road from SHoula till Arround Sokhneh , captured By ISIS this Night .
— Yusha Yuseef 🇸🇾 (@MIG29_) September 28, 2017
The pro-Assad offensive, including Iranian units and Iranian-led foreign militias, broke ISIS’s three-year siege of Deir ez-Zor city and the nearby military airport last month and moved into western sections of Deir ez-Zor city. ISIS is now concentrated along the Euphrates River between Deir ez-Zor city and Mayadin to the south, along the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have also moved into Deir ez-Zor Province this month, advancing to the north and east of Deir ez-Zor city. The advance has complicated the military position, however, with the prospects of clashes between the pro-Assad forces and the SDF, headed by the Kurdish YPG militia and backed by the US.
The Islamic State attacks came as an audio was released of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s first statement in almost a year. The self-styled caliph exhorted members to keep fighting in both Iraq and Syria.
Report: Rebel Attack Near Damascus Kills Dozens of Regime Troops
In the Damascus suburbs, the rebel faction Failaq al-Rahman claimed the killing of dozens of regime troops in operations which included two tunnel bombs on Wednesday.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) September 28, 2017
The attacks in Jobar in northeast Damascus and in nearby Ein Tarma are on a front where pro-Assad forces have failed for months to break rebel resistance despite the support of Russian airstrikes and heavy bombardment.
A Russian correspondent acknowledged 45 regime fatalities while Failaq al-Rahman said 50 troops were killed.
As Russia Bombs Idlib, Putin and Erdoğan Promote “De-Escalation Zone”
Even as Russian and regime warplanes bomb opposition-held Idlib Province in northwest Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promoted a “de-escalation zone” on Thursday.
Since renewing airstrikes on September 19, Russia and the Assad regime have killed more than 150 people across Idlib, knocking out civilian sites such as hospitals, civil defense centers, and power stations.
But Erdoğan said after talks in Ankara that he and Putin agreed to “pursue more intensely” the implementation of the de-escalation zone.
Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed earlier this month in talks in the Kazakh capital Astana on the zone. Rebel leaders also supported the accord, only to be target in the Russian-regime attacks over the past 10 days.
Putin said yesterday, “De facto, the necessary conditions have been created for the end of the fratricidal war in Syria, the final defeat of terrorists and the return of Syrians to a peaceful life and their homes.”