ISIS Convoy Turns Back Into Government-Held Syria
A convoy of so-called Islamic State fighters turned back toward government-held parts of Syria on Thursday after the United States blocked it from reaching friendly territory in Deir Ezzor, Reuters reported.
More than 300 ISIS militants and about 300 civilians were evacuated from the Lebanese border on Monday as part of a deal with Hezbollah promising them safe passage from their border enclave to the ISIS-held town of Boukamal.
U.S. coalition forces on Wednesday pounded the road leading to the militant bastion, effectively preventing the buses from advancing deeper into ISIS territory in eastern Syria.
On Thursday Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S.-led forces fighting ISIS, said that the convoy had turned back into Syrian government territory.
“When I walked into this conference about an hour ago, the buses were on the move. They had turned and had driven back into regime-held areas,” he told reporters via a video teleconference from Baghdad.
“We haven’t struck the convoy. But we have struck every ISIS fighter and/or vehicle that has tried to approach that convoy. And we’ll continue to do that.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Thursday that he met Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to convince him to let the ISIS convoy pass through government territory en route to Deir Ezzor, the Associated Press reported. “He [Assad] told me, this is embarrassing for us, but no problem,” Nasrallah added.
Pro-Government Forces Capture Strategic Mountain
Pro-government forces on Thursday captured a strategic mountain that overlooks the province of Deir Ezzor, which is mostly controlled by ISIS, the Associated Press reported.
Citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the AP said Syrian troops and allied forces captured Bishri mountain.
According to the United Kingdom-based SOHR, the strategic mountain is located at the intersection of three key provinces: Deir Ezzor, Raqqa and Hama. It was also reportedly essential for ISIS supply lines.
The capture of Bishri mountain brings the government within firing range of ISIS positions in Deir Ezzor’s western countryside, the SOHR said. It also provides a linkup point for pro-government forces advancing east from al-Sukhna and forces advancing south from Raqqa city.
Thursday’s advance is part of a larger campaign aiming to drive the jihadi group from one of its last strongholds in Syria. According to the SOHR, pro-government forces are roughly 17 miles (27km) from the southern entrance of Deir Ezzor city.
Rebels Asked to Withdraw From Syria-Jordan Border
Rebel groups fighting pro-government forces on a section of Syria’s border with Jordan are being asked to retreat into Jordanian territory, the SOHR reported on Thursday.
Jordan is asking the Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya (Lions of the East Army), a Free Syrian Army (FSA) affiliate, to abandon its positions along the shared border and withdraw from the fight against the Syrian government, according to the monitoring group.
The SOHR said the rebels have refused to fall back to Jordanian territory.
The exit proposal comes after weeks of clashes between the FSA-linked opposition faction and the Syrian army in border regions in Suweida province.
On Wednesday, pro-government forces captured at least five border posts and other positions along the frontier. Earlier this month, Syrian troops and allied fighters captured at least 19 miles (30km) of Syria’s frontier with Jordan from rebels, seizing control of all checkpoints and border posts it had lost earlier in the conflict.
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