Tensions are growing between Syrian government forces and US-backed forces in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor as the both sides are competing for the countryside of the provincial capital.
Late on Friday, a commander of the Deir Ezzor Military Council [a part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces], Ahmed Abu Khawla, claimed that US-backed force will not allow the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies to cross the Euphrates River.
“We have notified the regime [Syrian government] and Russia that we are coming to the Euphrates riverbank, and they can see our forces advancing,” he said, according to Reuters. “We do not allow the regime or its militias to cross to the eastern riverbank.”
The US-led coalition and its Kurdish-dominated coalition of various militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are seeking to divide eastern Syria into two parts using the Euphrates River as a kind of separation line or even to capture additional areas on the western bank of Euphrates if they get a chance.
The SDF launched its advance against ISIS north of Deir Ezzor after the SAA crushed a main ISIS force in the area in a fierce battle southwest of the city. Since then, the SDF has made a notable gains and reached Deir Ezzor city from the northern direction.
However, the internationally recognized Syrian government, backed up by Iran and Russia, is not going to drop its plans to re-capture all possible areas that are now under the control of ISIS.
Pro-Kurdish/US sources denied this claim. Considering the ongoing media blackout in an area of the Euphrates River near Deir Ezzor city nothing could be said decisively. No side has provided photos or videos confirming the river was crossed or was not crossed by government troops.
Later, an aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, said that government forces will fight against any terrorist or illegitimate foreign force in its effort to liberate the whole country.
“Whether it’s the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), or Daesh [ISIS] or any illegitimate foreign force in the country… we will fight and work against them so our land is freed completely from any aggressor,” she said in an exclusive interview with Lebanon-based al-Manar television network.
She added that the SDF has gained areas north of Deir Ezzor from ISIS “without any fighting,” highlighting that the SDF just used the SAA operation against ISIS in Deir Ezzor to seize oil-rich areas east of the city.
On Saturday, clashes continued in the countryside of Deir Ezzor as the SAA and the Syrian Republican Guard further pushed against ISIS northeast and southwest of the city. Earlier, they liberated Huwaijat, Muraieiah and Ayyash near the city expanding their control over the river bank.
This operation shows that the SAA is not going to push towards the Iraqi border soon. Instead, government forces are focusing on consolidating their gains in the Deir Ezzor countryside and crushing ISIS units remaining in the area.