ISIL launches one of its fiercest assaults yet on Syrian city of Deir Ezzour
BEIRUT // The extremist group ISIL on Saturday launched one of its fiercest assaults yet on the besieged Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, leaving more than 30 regime fighters and militants dead.
The attack, on a day that saw many outbreaks of violence across Syria, came as the political opposition said it supported upcoming peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.
The negotiations will attempt to bring an end to the nearly six-year war by building on a fragile truce agreement.
But ISIL is excluded from the deal, brokered by rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia.
Unleashing a wave of suicide attacks, rockets and tunnel bombs, ISIL killed at least 12 government fighters and two civilians in Deir Ezzor on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The British-based monitoring group said 20 extremists were killed in fierce air raids by Syrian and allied warplanes on the city, where about 200,000 people have lived under ISIL siege since early 2015.
“Daesh is amassing its forces to attack Deir Ezzor and breach government lines,” a Syrian military source said.
ISIL has tried to overrun the entire city, including the nearby military airport.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said Saturday’s attack was the most violent ISIL assault on the city in more than a year.
Elsewhere in Syria, the ceasefire deal was under increasing strain on Saturday with air raids in the north-west and clashes near the capital.
The air strikes on the town of Maarat Masrin in Idlib province killed eight people, most of them civilians, the Observatory said.
A day earlier three civilians, including a child, were killed in strikes on the nearby town of Orum Al Joz, Mr Abdel Rahman said.
Idlib province is controlled by a rebel alliance led by Jabhat Fatah Al Sham Front, the former Syrian branch of Al Qaeda which changed its name from Jabhat Al Nusra Front after renouncing ties with the terror group last year.
Like ISIL, Fateh Al Sham is excluded from the truce deal.
New clashes also broke out Saturday in Wadi Barada, the main source of water for Damascus. Supplies from the area to the capital and its outskirts have been cut since December 22 because of fighting.
Rebels and government troops reached a local agreement on Friday so that water access could be restored, but regime forces and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah violated the agreement on Saturday by launching a rocket attack on a town in Wadi Barada.
“They took advantage of the halt in military activities there to advance and flex their muscles,” Mr Abdel Rahman said.
Syria has been ravaged by violence since widespread protests in March 2011 calling for President Bashar Al Assad’s ouster developed into a full-scale uprising.
More than 310,000 people have been killed and more than half the population have been forced to flee their homes, but Moscow and Ankara are hoping that the peace talks in Astana later this month will lead to a political solution.
After a two-day meeting in Riyadh, the High Negotiations Committee, a leading opposition body, said it would support an anti-regime military delegation attending the talks.
“Concerning the forthcoming meeting in Astana, the Committee stresses its support to the military delegation... and expresses hope that the meeting would reinforce the truce,” the HNC said.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: January 14, 2017 04:00 AM