BEIRUT: The Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS has stepped up its offensive against Islamist rebels in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, through a blockade and the severing of electricity and water supplies.
Although regime troops are present in the divided city of Deir al-Zor, the campaign by ISIS is seeking to oust jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s affiliate the Nusra Front and an array of its Islamist allies from the city and various parts of the oil-rich province.
There were conflicting reports Sunday over control of the Kharta oil facility in southwestern Deir al-Zor. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group, said the Nusra Front and its allies had re-established control over the facility after fierce fighting with ISIS militants.
In the village of Khasham in the eastern part of the province, last-minute negotiations between local militias and ISIS collapsed and the Al-Qaeda splinter group seized the location, as the fierce fighting prompted residents to flee.
The Conoco natural gas facility in Khasham stopped operations after an attack by ISIS fighters, it added.
ISIS announced late last week that it intended to besiege the city of Deir al-Zor, as local activists reported dwindling supplies of food and water, while rebels based in the city vowed to repulse any attack.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of anti-regime activists, said the electricity and water supply had been cut off across the city early Sunday.
Several media reports by pro-opposition outlets spoke of clashes raging in small villages and towns throughout Deir al-Zor province, while warning of even more misery for residents as they flee the fighting.
In the city of Raqqa, meanwhile, the Observatory reported a rare instance of regime military action against ISIS targets.
It said that two airstrikes targeted the Finance Ministry building and the provincial governor’s office, which have been used as headquarters by ISIS since it seized Raqqa last year. There was no information about any casualties from the attacks, the Observatory said.
The pro-regime daily Al-Watan also reported the stepped-up fighting between ISIS and “FSA militias,” in Deir al-Zor and Raqqa provinces.
Elsewhere, a couple and their five children, the youngest just six months old, were killed in air raids in rural Aleppo, the Observatory said.
“The parents and their children, aged 10, six, four, two and six months, were all killed,” in the strikes targeting the rebel-held town.
“[President] Bashar Assad says he wants to kill terrorists. Is a 6-month-old baby a terrorist?” asked Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman.
More than 2,000 civilians have been killed since January in a regime aerial campaign targeting Aleppo province, most of which is under rebel control.
Aleppo city, the country’s pre-war commercial capital, has been divided between rebel and regime control since shortly after fighting began there in mid-2012.
The campaign has included frequent attacks with explosives-packed barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, a tactic rights groups condemn as indiscriminate.
Local activists in Aleppo said a total of six airstrikes and 11 barrel bombs targeted the city of Aleppo and rural areas Sunday. Seven fatalities were reported in one of the barrel bomb strikes on the neighborhood of Tariq al-Bab, a frequent target of government raids.
Fierce fighting also continued as the regime and rebel groups vied for control over the Damascus suburb of Mliha, near the highway leading to the international airport.
The Observatory said four airstrikes and five surface-to-surface missiles targeted rebel positions.
Clashes were also reported in Deraa province in the south, and the central provinces of Homs and Hama, as well as Idlib and Latakia in the northwest.
Regime-held neighborhoods in Damascus were targeted by mortar bombs believed to have been fired by rebel groups, killing one person and wounding an unspecified number of people, while rebel-held areas of Aleppo were also struck by mortar bombs fired by an Islamist militia, the Observatory said.
It put Saturday’s nationwide death toll at 166 people, of whom 56 were fighters from the various sides.