Aid convoy reaches Syria's Deir al-Zor after three-year siege

by Reuters
Thursday, 7 September 2017 13:13 GMT

FILE PHOTO:A man holds bread as he walks along a damaged street filled with debris in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo

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UN has estimated that 93,000 civilians were living under IS siege in Deir al-Zor in "extremely difficult" conditions, supplied by air drops

BEIRUT, Sept 7 (Reuters) - An aid convoy arrived at Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria on Thursday, bringing supplies to soldiers and civilians days after the Syrian army broke a three-year Islamic State siege, Syrian state media reported.

The Syrian army and its allies reached Deir al-Zor on Tuesday in a sudden advance following months of steady progress east across the desert. The army on Thursday advanced against militants in a pocket they still hold further west, pro-Damascus media reported.

State TV broadcast footage of scores of residents cheering with relief in Deir al-Zor as the convoy arrived.

The United Nations estimated that 93,000 civilians living under Islamic State siege in Deir al-Zor had been in "extremely difficult" conditions, being supplied only by air drops.

The 40 trucks that reached the area on Thursday carried basic needs such as fuel, food and medical supplies to civilians, and included two mobile clinics, state news agency SANA reported.

The army also holds another besieged enclave at the city's airbase, separated from its advancing forces by hundreds of metres of IS-held ground.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday that the army had not yet connected with that enclave, and was working on expanding its corridor from the west.

IS CONVOY BLOCKED

Islamic State mortar fire on neighbourhoods still surrounded near the air base killed at least seven civilians and wounded dozens more on Thursday, the British-based monitoring group said.

On Thursday, the army also advanced against Islamic State militants in countryside east of the city of Hama, a media unit run by Damascus ally Hezbollah reported.

The advance, which saw forces recapture two villages there, is part of efforts to drive the militants out of an isolated pocket of territory they control east of Hama and Homs.

Separately, the U.S. special envoy to the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, said on Wednesday that a convoy of Islamic State fighters and families from the Syria-Lebanon border was still in open desert.

The coalition is using air strikes to block the convoy from reaching IS-held territory in eastern Syria, to which the Syrian army and its ally Hezbollah were escorting it as part of a truce following fighting on the Syria-Lebanon border.

Islamic State is fighting separate offensives by both the Syrian army and its allies in eastern and central Syria, as well as the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa.

The group has lost nearly half of its territory across both Iraq and Syria, but still has 6,000-8,000 fighters left in Syria, the United States-led coalition has said. (Reporting by Sarah Dadouch, additional reporting by John Davison; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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