IS assault on eastern Syrian city leaves 30 dead

By Layal Abou Raha, AFPl

BEIRUT — The Islamic State group on Saturday launched one of its fiercest assaults yet on the besieged Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, leaving more than 30 regime fighters and jihadists dead. The brutal attack — on a day that saw many outbreaks of violence across Syria — came as the political opposition said it “supported” upcoming peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana. The negotiations will attempt to bring an end to the nearly six-year war by building on a fragile truce agreement. But IS is excluded from the deal, brokered by rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia. Unleashing a wave of suicide attacks, rockets, and tunnel bombs, IS killed at least 12 government forces and two civilians in Deir Ezzor, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The British-based monitoring group said 20 jihadists were killed in fierce air raids by Syrian and allied warplanes on the city, where around 200,000 people have lived under IS siege since early 2015. IS has sought to overrun the entire city, including the key nearby military airport.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the attack was the “most violent” assault mounted by IS on the city in more than a year. “Daesh is amassing its forces to attack Deir Ezzor and breach government lines,” a Syrian military source told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for IS. He said jihadists had aimed to cut the route between the airport and the city, but that the government’s counter-attack had stopped IS. Astana ‘paves way’ to Geneva Syria has been ravaged by violence since widespread protests in March 2011 calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster. More than 310,000 people have been killed and over half the population has been forced to flee. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have thus far failed, but Moscow and Ankara are hoping that the peace talks in Astana later this month will lead to a political solution.

After a two-day meeting in Riyadh, the High Negotiations Committee leading opposition body said it would extend its support to an anti-regime military delegation attending those negotiations. “Concerning the forthcoming meeting in Astana, the (High Negotiations) Committee stresses its support to the military delegation… and expresses hope that the meeting would reinforce the truce,” the HNC said. It said the meeting in Astana “paves the way for political talks” in Geneva in early February, hosted by the United Nations.