An Islamic State (IS) convoy that was struck by US led air strikes yesterday is now going to reroute from Syrian government controlled Sukhna to the IS stronghold of Deir al Zor region according to a commanding officer in the pro-Syrian government military alliance. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian Army organized the evacuation of part of a ceasefire brokered with IS in an enclave on the Lebanon-Syrian border after an operation last week.
However, forces from the US led coalition obstructed the convoy from crossing over into IS controlled territory on Wednesday by hitting the road ahead and some of their members going to meet them. The ceasefire deal has been seen negatively by the US backed forces and by Iraq, whose military is also battling IS in regions next to Deir al Zor across the border. Spokesman for the coalition Colonel Ryan Dillon warned by phone that the coalition might attack again. They said that they would recon the IS fighters in real time and attack them advantageously when they are not among civilians and in “open areas”. Dillon stressed that the coalition was not regulated by the ceasefire agreement and said in clear terms that the evacuation was a cover to move jihadists from one place to another to live to fight another day.
The commanding officer in the pro-Syrian alliance said the destination for the convoy to go into IS controlled territory had been altered from Humeima in the southeast to Sukhna further up north and that it was already taking place. According to him an exchange took place in the desert according to which the corpses of an Iranian killed in the fighting and two other dead fighters would be exchanged for twenty five IS jihadists.
The evacuation permitted a convoy of around 600 people of which Hezbollah said almost half are civilians to be moved to IS controlled Deir al Zor in eastern Syria. The deal also includes the IS to reveal the whereabouts of nine Lebanese troops it took prisoners in its border enclave in 2014 as well as handing over a Hezbollah captive. These kind of negotiated retreats have been a well known tactic for the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Shia allies to consolidate their authority over many of the regions that were under rebel control in the now six year old civil war. However this was the first instance of a publically known deal with the IS on any war front in Iraq or Syria. Why the regime and its allies would want more IS fighters in the strategically important oil rich Der al Zor region is still a matter of speculation. The US and Russia are now inching closer to Der al Zor after for a final show down of with the IS’s last remaining stronghold in Syria once Raqqa falls to the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).