Middle East

ISIS expels thousands in east, uses fuel prices for support

File - A member of Islamist Syrian rebel group Nusra Front mans a checkpoint on the border crossing between Syria and Jordan, in Daraa December 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Ammar Khassawneh)

BEIRUT: The Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS has expelled more than 30,000 people from their homes in the eastern Syrian town of Shheil, a stronghold of its jihadist rival the Nusra Front.

It has also launched a policy to “gain popularity” in eastern areas by setting strict controls on the price of black-market fuel, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based, anti-regime group of activists.

The Observatory said Sunday that ISIS had “forced out” some 30,000 residents after seizing Shheil Thursday from Nusra, which is Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria

Another 30,000 residents have been forced from their homes in the towns of Khasham and Tabieh Jazeera, also in eastern Deir al-Zor province, the Observatory said.

“Some 30,000 residents of the town of Shheil, the former stronghold of Nusra Front, have been forced out by ISIS,” the group said.

Though both ISIS and Nusra share a jihadist ideology, the two groups have regularly clashed, with Nusra joining a coalition of armed opposition groups fighting ISIS.

ISIS has seized large swathes of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq, declaring the land it holds to be an Islamic caliphate and its leader the ruler of all Muslims.

The Observatory said ISIS had prevented some 30,000 people from returning to their homes in two other towns in Deir al-Zor, Khasham and Tabieh Jazeera, which it captured in late June.

On a Facebook page, activists from Shheil said ISIS had ordered all residents to leave, and entered in armored cars and tanks “because of their fear and cowardice.”

A video distributed by activists on YouTube purportedly shows mediators announcing the terms of the expulsion, saying residents are required to hand over weapons and remain out of Shheil “until [ISIS] feels it is safe.”

Activists said residents feared ISIS fighters planned to loot their homes, and the Observatory said the large displacement had left thousands sleeping in the open, with food and water shortages.

Elsewhere in the region, the Observatory said negotiations were underway over the fate of some 83,000 people living in three towns in Deir al-Zor after ISIS advances in the surrounding area.

The Observatory said that in the wake of territorial gains by ISIS in recent weeks, when it seized control of all oil fields in Deir al-Zor except one, it was turning its attention to setting oil prices that would boost the ultraconservative group’s popularity.

The Observatory said ISIS imposed a price of 2,000 Syrian pounds per barrel, or about $12, while instructing traders that they should resell at a maximum price of 3,000 Syrian pounds, or $18.

The group said the policy was a bid to “gain popularity in areas that [ISIS] controls, in light of the humanitarian crisis the Syrian people is experiencing throughout the country.”

The fuel is believed to be sold mostly in black markets to traders, while various Islamist and mainstream militias and rebel groups that previously controlled the oil installations were selling the fuel at up to $50 a barrel, the Observatory added.

As ISIS has gained control of areas in Deir al-Zor province, its rival the Nusra Front and Islamist militias have retreated, either in coordinated fashion or unilateral withdrawals.

The Observatory said ISIS militants ambushed fighters from Nusra during their withdrawal from areas in Deir al-Zor province, as they sought to redeploy in rural Homs province.

The ambush late Friday was followed by a display of the captured weapons and vehicles from Nusra, the Observatory said, although there was no information about the number of casualties suffered by either side in the ambush.

Meanwhile, regime warplanes launched attacks on ISIS-held targets in Deir al-Zor, including Shheil and Muhasan, but precise information about casualties was not available.

Warplanes also hit an ISIS target in the city of Raqqa, which is held by ISIS, wounding a number of people.

Kurdish militiamen from the PYD fought with ISIS in rural Raqqa province and killed five of the militants, the Observatory added, while two ISIS members were taken prisoner. In northern Aleppo province, the Observatory said 15 Syrian Kurdish fighters had been killed since Friday in clashes with ISIS in the Zur Maghar region.

ISIS militants seized Zur Maghar and nearby Bayada Friday as it continues to battle rebel forces elsewhere in northern Syria.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 07, 2014, on page 8.




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