The Syrian army has liberated the long-contested eastern city of Deir el-Zour from the Islamic State (IS) group, marking another defeat of the extremists as their self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles.
Almost all IS urban strongholds in Syria and Iraq have now been lost.
The recapture of Deir el-Zour on the west bank of the Euphrates River is another victory for President Bashar Assad’s forces, though largely symbolic in the Syrian military’s bigger fight to capture most of the oil-rich province along the border with Iraq.
Deir el-Zour, which had been divided into a government-held and an IS-held part for nearly three years, is the largest city in eastern Syria and the capital of the province with the same name. It is also the largest to be recaptured by the Syrian government from IS. Syrian army spokesman General Ali Mayhoub declared victory in Deir el-Zour, describing it as the “last phase” in the military’s campaign toward the complete annihilation of IS in Syria.
His statement, read on Syrian state TV, hailed the city’s recapture as a strategic win. He noted the captured city’s location on a crossroad linking the country’s eastern, northern and central regions, as well as an “oil and gas reservoir” – a reference to the province.
“With the loss of Deir el-Zour, Daesh (another name for IS) loses its ability to lead terrorist operations by its militants who are now isolated and encircled eastern countryside of the city,” Gen Mayhoub said, using the Arabic name for IS.
The extremist group has lost more than 90 per cent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria at the height of its power in 2014 and 2015.
Those losses include Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in northern Syria.
The tactical blow comes as Iraqi forces and allied Shiite militia are chasing IS remnants inside the town of al-Qaim on the Iraqi side of the border.
The militants, routed from one urban stronghold after another, have recently been moving deeper into Syria’s remote desert. Experts said they were regrouping and preparing to return to guerrilla-style attacks, including scattered hit-and-run and suicide bombings.
In a statement, the Syrian military said it was now in full control of the city after a week-long campaign carried out with allied forces. A statement said their army units were now removing booby traps and mines left behind by the extremist group in the city.
Syrian government forces and their pro-government allies first broke the militant group’s siege of their part of the city in September in a Russian-backed offensive.