Syria’s army and its allies have encircled Daish in the city of Al Mayadin, southeast of Deir Al Zor, in eastern Syria, a Syrian military source said on Sunday as Turkish forces exchanged fire with radicals from Al Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate on the border of Idlib province, a monitor and eyewitnesses said.
Al Mayadin is one of the last strongholds of Daish as it falls back upon the fertile area downstream of Deir Al Zor in the Euphrates valley and launches counter attacks in the central desert after losing swathes of territory this year.
“Units of our armed forces with the allied forces continue their advance on a number of fronts and axes in Deir Al Zor and its countryside… and encircle Daish terrorists in the city of Al Mayadin,” the military source said.
The army and its allies reached Deir Al Zor in September after a months-long offensive across the Syria desert, and have in recent weeks pushed down the Euphrates towards Al Mayadin.
However, counter attacks by Daish in the central desert region have put pressure on the main supply road to Deir Al Zor from western Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday announced pro-Ankara rebels would lead a military campaign against the Hayat Tahrir Al Sham coalition in the northwestern Syrian province.
On Sunday morning, HTS radicals opened fire on Turkish forces removing part of a wall along the border between Turkey and Idlib, eyewitnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
“A group of HTS opened fire on the vehicle removing part of the wall, and the Turks returned fire and also shelled the area,” one eyewitness on the border said.
The Observatory reported “heavy exchanges of fire”, but said the incident did not appear to mark the start of the operation Erdogan described on Saturday.
Turkish shelling hit near a camp for displaced civilians by the border, prompting some to flee the area, it said, and HTS fighters also shelled a Turkish position near the Bab Al Hawa border crossing.
Turkey’s NTV, a private television station, reported an exchange of fire at the border area, quoting “military sources”.
On its website, it said the Turkish army had fired artillery in support of the allied Syrian rebels.
The campaign against HTS has been the subject of weeks of speculation, and is linked to plans to implement a so-called “de-escalation zone” in Idlib province and surrounding areas.
Rebel backer Turkey, along with Syrian government allies Russia and Iran, earlier this year agreed a deal to implement four such ceasefire zones in the war-torn country as a prelude to talks on a peace deal.