BEIRUT, Dec 7, (Agencies): Syrian government troops and allied militia have cleared the last pockets held by the Islamic State group on the west bank of the Euphrates River, a monitor said on Thursday.
But the jihadists still hold areas on the east bank in the north of oil-rich Deir Ezzor province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “DAESH no longer has a presence on the western side of the river,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS. “Its biggest presence is on the eastern side of the Euphrates, where it still holds around eight percent of Deir Ezzor province,” he said. State news agency SANA said late Wednesday that Syrian troops and allied forces had captured around two dozen towns and villages on the west side of the river.
East of the Euphrates, IS is under attack by both government troops and Kurdish-led militia. IS also has a presence in eastern parts of the central provinces of Homs and Hama, and in the Yarmuk Palestinian camp near Damascus, while an allied group holds positions in the south.
Meanwhile, Russia’s military said on Thursday it had accomplished its mission of defeating Islamic State in Syria, and there were no remaining settlements there under the group’s control. Russian bombers had used unprecedented force in the final stages to finish off the militant group, a senior Russian officer said. “The mission to defeat bandit units of the Islamic State terrorist organisation on the territory of Syria, carried out by the armed forces of the Russian Federation, has been accomplished,” Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi, head of the general staff’s operations, said on Rossiya 24 TV channel.
Syrian government forces were now combing and de-mining areas where Islamic State had their strongholds, he said. “The final stage of the defeat of the terrorists was accompanied by the unprecedented deployment and intense combat use of Russia’s air force,” he said. The air strikes included 14 sorties of groups of long-range bombers from Russia made in the past month, he said. Russia’s military deployed in Syria would now focus on preserving ceasefires and restoring peaceful life, he said.
The mediator of UN-led Syrian peace talks in Geneva will assess next week whether either side is trying to sabotage the process, he said on Thursday, after President Bashar al-Assad’s negotiators said they would turn up five days late. “We shall assess the behaviour of both sides, government and opposition, in Geneva,” UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said. “And based on that we will then decide how this … can be a building up or not, or a sabotage of Geneva.”