The Syrian Army, supported by the Russian Air Force, has fully liberated the city of as-Sukhnah (al-Sukhneh) from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), opening the road to the besieged enclave of Deir ez-Zor, says the Russian Defense Ministry.
As-Sukhnah, liberated on Sunday, was the last major city held by IS in the Syrian province of Homs.
“The liberation of As-Sukhnah from IS opens possibilities for Syrian government forces to advance and unblock the city of Deir ez-Zor,” the ministry said.
The final push to liberate the city began on Tuesday, when Syrian troops recaptured strategic heights in the vicinity of as-Sukhnah and blocked the city, according to the Russian MoD.
Over the following two days, Syrian troops pushed IS out of western and northern parts of the city, and early in the morning on Sunday other parts of as-Sukhnah were liberated.
The liberation of as-Sukhnah opens the road to the key Euphrates city of Deir ez-Zor, which has been under IS siege after being cut off from the other government-controlled areas during the May 2015 terrorist offensive on Palmyra.
“Today we can say that everyone is focused, set up for the fight against IS. Today there are such key points, like Deir ez-Zor – I would say, first and foremost Deir-ez-Zor… It's such a basic point on the Euphrates River, which would largely, if not ultimately, tell about the end of the fight against IS,” Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu told Rossiya 24 broadcaster.
The besieged city of Deir ez-Zor, alongside with neighboring military base and airfield have been supplied with food and ammunition by Russian and Syrian transport planes and helicopters.
The defenses of the Syrian stronghold were weakened in September 2016, when the US led coalition mistakenly bombed army positions, killing and injuring roughly 200 servicemen.
The airstrike coincided with an IS offensive and the terrorists managed to capture several strategic heights in the area.
The enclave was ultimately cut in two during IS offensive this January, when the terrorists managed to disrupt the supply lines between the airfield and the rest of Deir ez-Zor.
While the situation around Deir ez-Zor remains quite tense, the establishment of de-escalation zones and the separation of opposition from terrorists, has allowed the Syrian government to intensify its fight against IS, which resulted in significant gains, Shoigu said.
“Over the past two months, the territories controlled by Damascus have grown by 250 percent,” he said, adding that Russia has been urging its international partners to separate terrorists from non-terrorists for a long time.
“We’ve started persuading our American colleagues that terrorists should be separated from opposition to understand where to strike… Establishing the de-escalation zones today is exactly this separation.”
The minister reminded the opposition forces in Syria that they also should not leave the fight against terrorists only to the government troops.
“There’s a de-escalation zone, there’s moderate and not so moderate opposition within it. There are no bandits there.
And if there are bandits in it, the opposition which is within a de-escalation zone, should fight them,” Shoigu said.