Middle East

ISIS shuts down some Deir al-Zor bases ahead of possible U.S. strike

A resident reacts amid damage after what activists said were two air strikes by forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on a market in central Douma, eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus September 17, 2014. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

BEIRUT/UNITED NATIONS: With the U.S. military poised to strike, ISIS militants in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province have abandoned some of their bases and redeployed their forces to other positions, activists said Wednesday.

ISIS has “started to empty out many of their bases and positions in Deir al-Zor province,” said Abu Osama, an activist from the eastern region, which is mostly under jihadist control.

Speaking via the Internet, Abu Osama said all of ISIS’ known positions in Ashara, a town about 60 km east of the provincial capital, had been “shut down.”

Abu Osama also said the jihadists had emptied out the former governorate building in Deir al-Zor city, which ISIS was using as its main weapons storage depot in the area.

And in the city of Mayadin near the Iraqi border, “ISIS pulled out of eight bases, leaving only three open – the [former] post office, the military intelligence building and the religious court,” he told AFP.

“Even the oil fields are being emptied out. The families of the foreign jihadists who had been living in the residential buildings by the fields have been evacuated,” he added.

Earlier this year, ISIS took control of the vast majority of the oil-rich province and expelled all rivals. The regime controls parts of Deir al-Zor city and the military airport.

The moves by the Al-Qaeda breakaway group come amid the threat of more U.S. airstrikes as part of an international campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

An anti-regime source in Deir al-Zor told The Daily Star that ISIS militants were still being targeted by an informal local resistance, which killed an Egyptian commander with ISIS and several members of the group in an ambush in the border town of Al-Bukamal.

Also, five members of the religious police established by ISIS were kidnapped by an “unknown group” in a village in Deir al-Zor province, the source said.

Meanwhile, government airstrikes killed some 50 people in the rebel-held city of Talbiseh in Homs this week in an apparent attempt to target a rebel commander, activists said. The dead included a mother and her five children, who were crushed under rubble, and a rebel commander and several fighters, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime monitoring group.

The rebel leader was the area’s local commander for the Hazm Movement, one of the rebel groups receiving U.S. training and anti-tank weapons. A government security source in Damascus called the man, Abu Hatim al-Dahik, “Talbiseh’s most dangerous terrorist.”In Douma, a suburb of the capital, six people died in airstrikes, while a child was killed in the nearby town of Saqba. In central Damascus, one person was killed by rebel fire from the city’s outskirts.

Separately, the U.N. said militants from the Nusra Front had not returned weapons, uniforms and cars taken from Fijian peacekeepers released last week after two weeks of captivity on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said: “the possession and use of U.N.-marked assets by non-U.N. people is of concern to the United Nations.”

The Fijians were captured Aug. 28 by the Al-Qaeda-linked group, which has been battling Syrian government forces in the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 18, 2014, on page 1.




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