Syrian government troops broke a years-long Islamic State group siege of the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday, retaking one of the militants’ last major footholds and freeing thousands trapped in the contested enclave near the Iraqi border.
Lifting the siege on the city, parts of which have been ruled by the extremist group since January 2015, marks another significant victory for Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been advancing on several fronts against ISIS and other insurgents since Russia intervened in the conflict on his behalf.
The military victory should also put an end to a humanitarian crisis in the city, where an estimated 100,000 or so civilians have survived for the last 32 months on erratic high-altitude air drops of food and supplies.
Trucks loaded with food and medicine were reportedly expected to arrive inside the besieged city from Aleppo by Tuesday evening.
Syria’s army and allied fighters, backed by Russian air support, have been advancing towards Deir el-Zour on several fronts in recent weeks, and on Tuesday arrived at a key government-held air base.
Jubilant troops embraced their besieged compatriots and shouted patriotic slogans.
“The Syrian Arab Army this afternoon broke the siege on Deir Ezzor city after its advancing forces arrived from the western province to Brigade 137”, Syria’s state news agency said.
“This great achievement is a strategic shift in the war on terror and confirms the ability of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies”, the army command said.
The defeat is the latest in a string of setbacks for ISIS, already driven from the Iraqi stronghold of Mosul and half of the nearby Syrian city of Raqqa, once the capital of the group’s self-styled caliphate, by US-backed forces.
The loss of Deir el-Zour city and its surrounding oil-rich province will leave ISIS with only a handful of isolated outposts.
“The reopening of the Deir Ezzor road is a strategic disaster for ISIS, which is now at its weakest since 2014 and seems unable to break out of an accelerating spiral of defeats”, wrote Syria analyst Aron Lund in a recent analysis.
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