IS Deir Az-Zour assault leaves residents starving and terrified

IS Deir Az-Zour assault leaves residents starving and terrified
A deadly IS assault and siege on the eastern Syrian city of Deir Az-Zour has left thousands of mostly women and children in the city starving and living in fear.
3 min read
20 January, 2016
The extremists now control 60 percent of Deir az-Zour city [Getty]
An Islamic state [IS] group assault on Deir Az-Zour has seen the militant group tighten its siege on the eastern Syrian city and left residents terrified.

Fierce clashes have relentlessly rocked the city's northern edges after a multi-front offensive on Saturday that cost the lives of hundreds of people.

IS militants overran the town of al-Baghaliyeh, one of the last areas on the city's outskirts known for the production of food.

The extremists now control 60 percent of Deir Az-Zour city, intensifying a siege that had already caused fear and hardship for the roughly 200,000 people still living inside.

Around 70 percent of the city's remaining residents are women and children, according to the UN.

"Violent clashes have continued at al-Baghaliyeh and have started to move towards the nearby town of Ayyash, which holds one of the largest regime ammunition stockpiles in eastern Syria," a local activist told The New Arab's Arabic service.

The head of the Justice for Life Observatory in Deir az-Zour, Jalal Hamad, said that the corpses of 193 government forces had been transported to a local hospital, many of whom were executed by IS.

"The lives of locals are in serious danger because of the crippling blockade, which began two weeks ago when IS blocked off the regime-held parts of the city," Hamad said.

Locals have said that food and vegetables have become rare and stokes of bread are beginning to run out.

On Tuesday, IS released 270 of an estimated 400 civilians, most of them women and children, kidnapped over the weekend.

The group rounded up another 50 men on Tuesday during raids on houses in areas seized during the four days of fighting.

The militant group also said at least 70 IS fighters had been killed in the assault and clashes.

The IS advance is just the latest encroachment on the city, where the government has clung to several neighborhoods and the nearby military airport despite IS control of the rest of the oil-rich province.

On Monday, IS consolidated its gains on the city's edges, taking advantage of a dust storm that all but grounded Russian warplanes that had been carrying out strikes in support of regime troops.

Since early 2015, IS has blocked off access to most of the city, leading to "a severe shortage of food, medicine, and basic commodities," according to the UN.

Its most recent offensive "is putting thousands of people in the line of fire," said Linda Tom, spokeswoman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.

"The UN has received credible reports of the execution and abduction/detention of civilians, including people believed to have been smuggling food into the besieged city," she said.

In an update published just before the attacks, OCHA said landmines lined the roads leading out of Deir Az-Zour and that a majority of inhabitants are surviving on bread and water.

Syria's government airlifted basic commodities into the city on January 11, and the Russian government said a few days later it had also dropped aid into besieged neighbourhoods, according to the statement.

IS has announced plans to halve the monthly salaries of its members in Syria and Iraq amid mounting military and economic pressure.

The city lies about 450 kilometres northeast of Damascus and is the provincial capital of the oil-rich province by the same name.

More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which erupted nearly five years ago with anti-government protests.

Agencies contributed to this report