With a sudden lunge through militants’ lines, the Syrian military and its allies on Monday came to within three kilometres of relieving the Euphrates city of Deir Al Zor, where Daish has been besieging an army garrison and 93,000 civilians for years.
The advance on the eastern city marks another stinging setback for the once-triumphant Daish, fast retreating in both Iraq and Syria as its self-declared caliphate crumbles.
Syrian troops were rapidly approaching the city on Monday, reaching a point three km from their comrades in the city, state television reported.
Deir Al Zor’s provincial governor said on Sunday he expected the army to reach the city by Tuesday night. A military media unit run by Hezbollah said the advancing forces were heading to the besieged garrison’s camp on the city outskirts.
“Daish is in confusion. There is no leadership or centralised control,” said a commander in the military alliance supporting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
Hemmed in on all sides, Daish is falling back on a last Euphrates stronghold downstream of Deir Al Zor in the towns of Al Mayadin and Al Bukamal near the border with Iraq.
But as it has lost its core territory – defeated in Iraq’s Mosul and yielding street after street in its de facto Syrian capital of Raqa – the ultra-hardline group has still been able to launch attacks in the West and maintain a threat in other centres such as Libya.
In Daish-encircled Deir Al Zor, news of the army’s approach prompted people to take to the streets to celebrate, governor Mohammed Ibrahim Samra said by phone.
The city has been cut off since 2013, after rebel groups rose up against Assad during the first flush of Syria’s six-year war.Daish surrounded the army’s enclave in the city in 2014.