By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) on Sunday attacked an isolated outpost of the Syrian Arab Army in a few neighborhoods in the north of the city of Deir al-Zor, which are surrounded by Daesh from every side. The SAA also still controls a military airfield just north of the city.
In the attack, which involved six suicide bombers and hundreds of guerrillas, some 50 pro-government fighters were killed, along with 85 civilians. Some of those killed were captured first, then summarily executed (a war crime). The SAA managed to fight off the attack in most of its territory in the north of the city, but in the northwest al-Baghiliya district fell to Daesh.
Daesh fighters immediately kidnapped some 400 local civilians, including women and children and dragged them off elsewhere, according to Syrian opposition sources. These were family members of soldiers and auxiliaries who had been fighting for the al-Assad regime in the area, from Sunni clans. They were taken to the rural outskirts of Deir al-Zor or to Maadan, a town in nearby al-Raqqah province (al-Raqqah is the seat of the Daesh phony caliphate).
— Occupy Schagen (@OccupySchagen) January 17, 2016
There are fears that Daesh will summarily execute some of the 400 civilians and will take the women and girls as sex slaves, as has happened before.
Daesh continued its attack on the regime positions in the north of the city on Sunday, but was subjected late that day to a fierce bombing campaign by the Russian Air Force.
Daesh has been trying for a year to take the entirety of Deir al-Zor Province; it has the bulk of it save for the north of the city of the same name, the provincial capital, and a military airbase near it.
Before the civil war, Deir al-Zor was a city of over 200,000 and the country’s seventh-largest. There are said to be 100,000 people living in the government-controlled area, which is supplied via the military air base since May, 2015, when Daesh took Palmyra and cut Deir al-Zor off from its supply lines.
These battles are an attempt by Daesh to remove one of the last government positions behind its lines and consolidate its control of the province of Deir al-Zor which abuts Daesh-controlled Iraq.
The partial advance on the city was one of the few pieces of good news for rebel forces in recent weeks. Because of Russian intervention, the al-Assad regime has completely cleared Latakia Province of rebel forces. The regime has also restored supply lines to west Aleppo, which it holds. Before the civil war Aleppo was a city of 4 million and the country’s largest. East Aleppo is held by a coalition of rebel groups, and Daesh has positions just outside the city to the east and south.