Assad regime still trying to fulfil last Thursday’s statement of “complete victory” over ISIS
Residents say the Islamic State has inflicted a defeat on pro-Assad foreign militias trying to capture ISIS’s last town in Syria.
The local sources said ISIS fighters, hiding in tunnels in the town center, ambushed Hezbollah and Iranian-supported militias, forcing them to retreat.
The Assad regime’s military said on Thursday that it had completed “victory” over ISIS with the takeover of al-Bukamal, in eastern Syria on the Iraq border, but pro-Assad units soon withdrew from the town, amid rumors of in-fighting between Hezbollah and other militias as well as ISIS resistance.
From Friday to Sunday warplanes, believed to be Russian-piloted, stepped up bombing. Residents said at least 50 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed.
But the tactics were foiled by the ISIS ambush. “Islamic State militants began surprise attacks with suicide bombers and rocket attacks after the Iranian militias were duped that Daesh (Islamic State) had left the city,” said Qahtan Ghanam al-Ali, a tribal leader.
The pro-Assad forces reportedly retaliated by bombing and shelling villages east of the town, where hundreds of families have fled. In one airstrike on Sukariya, at least 30 people were killed, mostly women and children from three families, said “two former residents of the city in contact with relatives”.
Other aerial strikes hit the villages of Marshada and Sousa near a crossing on the Euphrates River where hundreds of civilians were gathered.
The Assad regime’s media has not acknowledged the defeat since last Thursday’s claim of victory. On Sunday, State news agency SANA wrote of “dozens of airstrikes” west of al-Bukamal, “killing and injuring scores of terrorists and destroying their vehicles, weapons” and equipment”.
The pro-Assad propaganda outlet al-Masdar has acknowledged the loss of al-Bukamal, but proclaimed on Sunday — without referring to the ISIS ambush — “the Syrian Arab Army managed to liberate at least 30 km of territory en route to the strategic border-city”.
Israel Cautions US and Russia on De-Escalation Agreement
Israel has cautioned the US and Russia, pursuing a de-escalation zone in southwest Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, to keep Hezbollah and Iranian-supported forces out.
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said of the latest US-Russia statement, issued on Saturday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, told reporters:
[It] does not meet Israel’s unequivocal demand the there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north.
There’s reflection here of the understanding that Israel has set red lines, and will stand firm on this.
A US State Department official said Washington and Russia had agreed “to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance” from the Golan Heights line.
An Israeli official said distances would range from 5-7 kms to around 30 kms, depending on frontlines between pro-Assad forces and rebels.
On Saturday the Israeli military said it shot down a spy drone as it overflew the Golan. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman blamed the Assad regime and repeated warnings to Iran and Hezbollah: “We will not allow the Shi‘ite axis to establish Syria as its forefront base.”