Fears for ISIS-besieged Deir ez-Zor
DAMASCUS - After losing ground in Iraq and Syria in a string of defeats, the Islamic State (ISIS) launched a surprise assault on the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, seizing one of four neighbourhoods still in government hands.
In the three neighbourhoods still in Damascus control — Kousour, Joura and Harabish — residents live in fear of what happened in Al- Baghaliyeh, where ISIS militants killed at least 85 civilians and 50 troops, could spread to their areas. Some 400 people, mainly relatives of pro-regime fighters, including women and children, were also taken to ISIS strongholds for interrogation.
“The place is more of a ghost city than anything else. Artillery shells and mortars are raining down on Joura and Kousour, with many hitting the governorate building, which lies only 6km from Al-Baghaliyeh,” a source in Deir ez-Zor said.
Dire conditions for the estimated 200,000 people trapped in the encircled neighbourhoods for more than a year were made worse after the fall of Al-Baghaliyeh where the city’s main water pumping station is located.
Water supplies were cut and the two main bakeries in the area have no fuel. Bread, which is hard to find, is being sold for $2.50 a loaf and vegetables, which used to be supplied from fields on the Euphrates, have become scarce.
“Thousands of citizens are threatened with starvation and death,” a resident said by telephone.
ISIS began its assault on Al- Baghaliyeh in the western part of the city with 30 suicide bombers crossing the Euphrates. Syrian Army defences quickly collapsed. Militants seized stores of food, fuel and ammunition plus two military camps in Al-Baghaliyeh. ISIS has reinforced its positions with tanks and fighters, possibly preparing for a major battle.
Abou Omar al-Hamad, who fled Al-Baghaliyeh with his family, said the assault started at dawn on January 16th when suicide attackers crossed the river in small boats and were followed by hundreds of militants.
“We heard a series of successive explosions, then the militants moved quickly capturing the whole neighbourhood, killing more than 100 people, including troops and combatants with the National Defence Forces and civilians. Two of the dead were senior officers,” Hamad said.
Most of Al-Baghaliyeh’s 4,000 residents sought refuge in nearby villages and some crossed into government areas, he said.
“More than 300 people were taken by ISIS to Maadan in Raqqa province, about 100km east of Deir ez-Zor, for interrogation about their relations with the National Defence Forces,” he said.