BEIRUT

Middle East

ISIS seizes key Syria oil field near Iraq

BEIRUT: ISIS seized control Thursday of a major Syrian oil field on the Iraqi border, as rival fighters withdrew, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

By seizing the Al-Omar oil field, ISIS now controls most oil and gas fields in the oil-rich Syrian province of Deir al-Zor, most of whose countryside is also under its control.

“ISIS took control of the Al-Omar oil field,” located north of the strategic town of Mayadin, also under its control since dawn Thursday, said the Observatory.

The capture “comes after [Al-Qaeda affiliate] Nusra Front withdrew from the oil field without a fight,” the Britain-based monitor added.

Before Syria’s 2011 revolt against President Bashar Assad broke out, the oil field produced some 30,000 barrels a day.

In November 2013, the Nusra Front and its anti-regime allies took over the field and kept it running, “selling 10,000 barrels a day,” according to the Observatory.

ISIS supporters posted amateur video on YouTube, showing a bearded man wearing black Afghan clothes and a black scarf on his head, identified by the cameraman as Commander Hommam.

“We took it [the oil field] over without any fighting. They fled like rats,” the commander says.

The footage also shows two signs posted on the road. One reads “the Euphrates Oil Company – Al-Omar Oil Field.”

The cameraman shouted: “The Islamic State is here to stay.”

Some rebels initially welcomed ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, among their ranks as they battled Assad’s forces in their bid to topple his regime.

In January, rebels and Nusra Front fighters began turning their guns on ISIS fighters, whose brutal abuses and quest for hegemony earned them the opposition’s wrath.

“But in four months of fighting [in Deir al-Zor], the rebels who were fighting ISIS did not receive a single bullet” from countries that back the revolt, complained Free Syrian Army spokesman Omar Abu Leyla.

ISIS has vastly bolstered its resources through an offensive it launched in Iraq June 9, capturing a swathe of territory in northern and western provinces as it sweeps toward Baghdad.

It has brought many of the heavy weapons it seized from Iraq’s fleeing troops across the border and is now deploying them in Syria, giving it vastly improved firepower.

Abu Leyla echoed a recent claim by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that ISIS is selling oil to Assad.

The “regime is playing a dangerous game. For the past 10 days it has been bombing areas under ISIS control, but causing very few ISIS casualties,” the rebel spokesman told AFP.

“At the same time, there are secret channels between ISIS and the regime. ISIS sells oil and gas to the regime through businessmen. There is no direct dealing between ISIS and the regime, but there is a lot of proof that these channels exist,” he said.

Sunday, ISIS declared a “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 04, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

ISIS seized control Thursday of a major Syrian oil field on the Iraqi border, as rival fighters withdrew, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

By seizing the Al-Omar oil field, ISIS now controls most oil and gas fields in the oil-rich Syrian province of Deir al-Zor, most of whose countryside is also under its control.

Before Syria's 2011 revolt against President Bashar Assad broke out, the oil field produced some 30,000 barrels a day.

In January, rebels and Nusra Front fighters began turning their guns on ISIS fighters, whose brutal abuses and quest for hegemony earned them the opposition's wrath.

It has brought many of the heavy weapons it seized from Iraq's fleeing troops across the border and is now deploying them in Syria, giving it vastly improved firepower.


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