AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s forces attacked rebel positions in the eastern city of Deir Al Zor yesterday, days after a rebel advance threatened to bring the whole city under the control of anti-Assad forces, opposition activists said.
The provincial capital on the banks of the Euphrates, 430km northeast of Damascus, anchors a vast, arid oil-producing region bordering Iraq. Half of it fell to rebels a year ago but Assad’s forces have held out in several districts in the west of the Sunni Muslim city and in the airport to the east.
A coalition led by a rebel group and the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front captured the western Al Hawiqa district last week, seizing army and security compounds as well as Assad’s ruling Baath Party headquarters, the activists said.
Assad is battling a two-year-old uprising which has descended into a devastating civil war. Rebels control most of the Euphrates valley, from the Turkish border in the north to the frontier with Iraq in the southeast, as well as the rural north around Aleppo.
The northeastern Kurdish corner of Syria is also largely outside Assad’s control, leaving his power concentrated around the south, centre and Mediterranean coast — areas where his forces have consolidated control in recent months.
The army hit rebel forces in Hawiqa district yesterday with tanks and multiple rocket launchers, and also battled them in territory separating Hawiqa from the district of Joura, opposition sources in the city said.
“The regime is trying to regain Hawiqa because it cannot afford the rebels to be so close to its most important stronghold of Joura and the army camp there,” said Abu Al Tayyeb Al Deiri of the opposition Deir Al Zor Media Centre.
Deiri said that air force intelligence and military intelligence, two important security compounds in the city, were also located in the nearby Ghazi Ayyash district, and were now within the range of rebel rocket-propelled grenades.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said two rebel fighters were killed in the battles yesterday.
Another opposition source said rebel strength had been boosted by the arrival of 20 anti-aircraft missiles that came through Turkey for the Ahfad Al Rasul Brigade, which played a major role in the capture of Hawiqa.
“They probably used 2-3 missiles in Hawiqa and have the rest,” he said, adding that the rebels mainly used rocket-propelled grenades and a suicide car bomb that destroyed a major checkpoint in the capture of Hawiqa.
In strategic, majority Kurdish areas in Syria, fresh battles broke out yesterday as jihadists and the main Kurdish party fought each other for control, an NGO and activists said.
In the northeastern province of Hasakeh, “clashes broke out at dawn pitting the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Al Nusra Front and other battalions,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.