'The routes in Syria are now open toward liberating Deir-ez-Zor'
Syrian government forces, with the assistance of Russian military advisers, carried out a joint airborne operation against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Three villages and two oil reservoirs were recaptured without losses.
This operation was conducted 100 kilometers from Deir-ez-Zor, which is considered to be ISIS as its second-largest stronghold, after Raqqa.
Another key town, al-Sukhna, was recently liberated by the Syrian army. It fell into the hands of jihadists in May 2015, during the same battle in which ISIS captured Palmyra for the first time.
'Syrian forces take 3 more towns en route to Deir ez-Zor in first airborne operation' – Russian MoD https://t.co/IspGwc7i1U— RT (@RT_com) 15 августа 2017 г.
RT: The Russian defense minister said the liberation of al-Sukhna opens the way for the Syrian government to liberate Deir-ez-Zor. How soon do you think we will see an assault on Deir-ez-Zor?
Abdo Haddad: The routes are open now toward Deir-ez-Zor. But taking into consideration that now ISIS is in a clamped position, where one side of the clamp is the Syrian army and the Russian air force and the allies, which are all legit. From the other side of the clamp, you have the Kurds, with their American operators, you have the CIA operated armed groups that were defunded by President Trump some ten days ago. The only legit other side of the clamp is the Iraqi army in this battle. In such battles where you have different fronts of one battle, it depends on the game that will be played between the Russians and the Americans. So when that happens nobody knows. But I know there is a decision to retake Deir-ez-Zor, whether there is an understanding about it, or let it be an open battle.
RT: A few Syrian army forces have been holed up in certain districts of Deir-ez-Zor for three years now. How have they managed to defy the terrorists for so long, despite being cut off?
AH: This is the culture of righteousness and the culture of resistance that the Syrian army has in Deir-ez-Zor. And the people of Deir-ez-Zor that are around the army are still hanging on to them because they have witnessed the atrocities of ISIS, or other terror groups against them and the cleansing that was practiced against them all over Syria. When you have this culture of righteousness and resistance, you can keep on going for many years. Plus they trust the Syrian state, and they trust the Russia ally and the Iranian ally that they would not let them behind. This has created the stiff resistance and the stiff decision to stay until they got saved and until the siege is broken. I believe the day of breaking the siege is so close now.
Next stop, Raqqa?
Abdel Bari Atwan, author and Middle Eastern Affairs analyst
RT: Why is al-Sukhna important?
Abdel Bari Atwan: It is extremely important because the capture of al-Sukhna means the full control of the Syrian army, the Syrian government on the whole of Homs, which is a very strategic city and the third biggest city in Syria. That is why it is significant, it is important. It means the Syrian army is launching a heavy blow at the Syrian armed opposition and routing out one of the strongest bases of the terrorist organization, and the Al-Nusra brigade in particular.
RT: Is this special joint operation by Syrian and Russian forces a new phase in battling ISIS?
ABA: Definitely it is a new phase. Now Russia is putting all its weight behind the Syrian army. They would like to clear out ISIS, Al-Nusra and all terrorist organizations from this major city of Syria. They managed to recapture Aleppo; they managed to recapture most of the Damascus countryside. Now they are moving toward Deir-ez-Zor. I believe in few days’ time they will score a huge victory in Deir-ez-Zor against ISIS. After that, it will be that of Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS in Syria.
RT: Do you think that retaking Deir-ez-Zor could help prevent terrorists from escaping Syria and regrouping?
ABA: No, I think recapturing Deir-ez-Zor is extremely important for two things. The first one is it means the Syrian army will recapture the oil fields, the gas fields, which the Syrian economy is desperate to gain, to be honest. The second, it will be a spring board to attack Raqqa. Now the Syrian army is very close to south of Raqqa, near Deir-ez-Zor. If they manage to capture Deir-ez-Zor, I think the second step will be Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, which could mean the end of Islamic State in Syria.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.