In Syria, government forces are working to clear away explosives hidden by ISIL. Pro-government fighters have retaken the area near the Iraq-Syria border from the militant group. Officials had claimed victory early this month, but were unable to maintain control of the territory.
CGTN’s Alaa Ebrahim reports from Damascus.
Ten days after an initial announcement to the same effect, the Syrian army said on Sunday that it took the city of Al-Bukamal, along the boarder with Iraq. The army on November 9th had originally announced it took the ISIL stronghold, but it was then unable to hold the city.
Al-Bukamal is the last major stronghold for Islamic State militants.
A field commander who took part in the offensive tells CGTN that several hundred of the radical group’s fighters crossed the Euphrates River into a desert area between Iraq and Syria, east of the border crossing. Militants still control a handful of villages there.
The recent gain puts the Syrian army and its allies in control of most of Syria, and deprives ISIL of its last major stronghold in the country. But it also ends two weeks of a hectic race with the US-backed – mainly Kurdish – militias for control of the Iraqi-Syrian boarders.
The Syrian army on Friday declared it had retaken the key eastern city of Deir-al-Zour, a border town that had been in militant hands for several years. This the same day Iraq said it captured a key border crossing from ISIL.
In this battle, the press office of the Lebanese Hezbollah has for the first time acknowledged the presence of Iranian and Iraqi fighters in this battle.
The Syrian government has maintained that Iranian troops only operate in the country as advisors, but recent photos form the battle of Bukamal showed Kasem Sulimani, the well-known general of the Iranian revolutionary guards, taking part in commanding the battle.
CGTN spoke with Syrian journalist Kamel Sqer, who said that the announced presence of Iranian militias and generals demonstrates the regional dimensions of fighting in eastern Syria. Iranian-backed groups on both sides of the boarder have now secured a land route that stretches from Tehran to Beirut, which also stretches Iran’s influence farther than before.