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U.S.-Backed Fighters, Syrian Army Advance Against IS In Eastern Syria


Syrian pro-government forces stand near an ambulance west of Deir al-Zour on September 4.

U.S.-backed fighters and the Syrian government forces have advanced in separate offensives against the extremist Islamic State (IS) group in the province of Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, piling pressure on shrinking territory IS still holds in oil-rich areas near the Iraqi border.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed alliance of mostly Arab and Kurdish fighters, launched an offensive against IS in the north of the province on September 9, in an operation to capture areas east of the Euphrates River.

"We're not specifying a time-frame but we hope it will be a quick operation," said Abu Khawlah, who heads the SDF's Military Council.

The U.S.-trained Deir al-Zour Military Council said it was calling its operation Jazeera Storm.

Abu Khawlah said US-led coalition air strikes had already helped his forces advance "around 30 kilometers " in the first day of the operation.

He said forces had begun to push IS out of territory in Hasakeh Province and further south in Deir al-Zour.

Meanwhile, Syrian state media announced on September 9 that government forces and their allies fought their way to Deir al-Zour military airport on the other side of the Euphrates, where troops had been holed up since 2014, surrounded by IS fighters.

The advance came days after the Syrian Army and its allies -- Iran-backed militias and the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah -- broke the siege of the main part of the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed that government forces had breached the airport siege.

The British-based monitoring group said that Syrian forces also recaptured the Teym oil field southwest of Deir al-Zour and seized part of a main highway running downstream to the city of Al-Mayadeen, to which many IS militants have retreated.

Since 2014, IS has held swaths of Deir al-Zoir province, and about 60 percent of the provincial capital.

The SDF are also fighting against IS militants over the jihadists’ de-facto capital city, Raqqa, in north Syria. Ground and air support have been provided by the U.S.-led coalition that has carried out air strikes against IS in Syria since 2014.

The offensive to retake Raqqa was launched by the SDF in early June and forces have already seized around 65 percent of the city.

The coalition, the SDF, Syria’s government, and Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, have agreed on a "de-confliction line” in northeast Syria to prevent clashes.

The coalition said the line runs from Raqqa Province southeast along the Euphrates River towards Deir al-Zour.

"The de-confliction line with the Russians is necessary in the complex and congested battlespace over eastern Syria," coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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