ISIS moves heavy weapons to Deir ez-Zor to protect its ‘last stronghold’ in Syria – Russian MOD
“Following the successful offensive action of the Syrian Armed Forces group supported by the Russian Air Forces in the Ghanem Ali area, Islamic State terrorists try to regroup and establish fortified defensive positions in the Deir ez-Zor area,” the ministry said in statement.
It added the extremists are deploying heavy weapons, “including tanks, all-terrain vehicles with high-caliber weapons and mortars mounted on them.”
The ministry said further that the actions of the jihadists apparently show that they “recognize the fact that the staging area around Deir ez-Zor is the last stronghold of the international terrorists on the Syrian soil.”
The Russian Air Force is meanwhile continuing air strikes against extremists in the area.
Over the last 24 hours, Russian aircraft destroyed “four tanks, 16 all-terrain vehicles with high-caliber machine guns mounted on them as well as two fortified positions that had gun lines,” the statement says.
Syrian government forces supported by Russian military planes are continuing their offensive on terrorists entrenched around Deir ez-Zor and are now advancing alongside the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, the statement added.
On Sunday, the Russian defense ministry said the offensive operation of Syrian government forces supported by Russian warplanes led to the defeat of the “most capable and best armed group of [Islamic State] in the Euphrates River valley.”
The terrorists suffered heavy losses during the battle near the town of Ghanem Ali, located in the eastern part of the Raqqa governorate south of the Euphrates, the ministry said, with around 800 terrorists killed in the operation. Some 13 tanks, 29 pickup trucks with mounted high-caliber machine guns as well as nine artillery pieces were also destroyed in the armed clash Sunday.
The key Euphrates city of Deir ez-Zor has been under terrorist siege for two and a half years after being cut off from government-held areas in the May 2015 jihadist offensive on Palmyra. The surrounded city, alongside a neighboring military base and airfield, have been sustained with food and ammunition by Russian and Syrian transport planes and helicopters.
Russian planes delivered 293 tons of food and medical supplies to Deir ez-Zor in August, according to General Sergey Rudskoy, spokesman for the Russian General Staff. The Russian Air Force also significantly intensified its operations against Islamic State in August, upping the number of sorties to 60-70 per day as the push for Deir ez-Zor gains momentum.
While the Syrian Army and allied forces are pushing toward the besieged city, the situation in the enclave remains tense.
In September 2016, jihadists managed to capture several key positions in the area in an offensive that coincided with a US-led coalition airstrike that mistakenly hit Syrian Army positions in the city which left some 200 soldiers dead or injured.
The extremists then exploited this success, eventually slicing the enclave in two in January, disrupting the supply line between the airfield and the rest of the stronghold.