BEIRUT (AP) — The al-Qaida breakaway group that seized much of Iraq's northern city of Mosul has encircled the city of Deir el-Zour across the border in Syria, activists said Wednesday.
"They have surrounded the city. There are no entrances or exits left for people to flee," said a Syrian activist in the region who has contacts inside Deir el-Zour and who uses the name Salar. The information was confirmed by a second activist who uses the name Abu Abdullah, and who is based near Deir el-Zour.
The city, which straddles the Euphrates in the northeastern corner of Syria, is one of the oil-rich region's last strongholds of resistance to the Islamic State. Their control runs some 175 miles (283 kilometers) eastwards across the Euphrates, from the northeast provincial capital of Raqqa to the town of Busayra in the province of Deir el-Zour, said Abu Abdullah. From there, they are some 62 miles (101 kilometers) from the Syrian town of Bukamal on the border with Iraq.
Their control extends upward through another province known as Hassakeh that borders Turkey. But they do not control a string of Kurdish-dominated border towns, Salar said. Across Syria, in the northern province of Aleppo, a rebel coalition dominated by Islamic factions announced a new push to dislodge Islamic State fighters from their strongholds in the towns of Manbij and al-Bab, and surrounding villages.
The announcement was reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and other sources inside Syria. Details on the scale of the new offensive were not immediately known. But one of the groups in the coalition, the Islamic Front, claimed that its fighters recently captured four villages from the Islamic State and killed 17 of its fighters.
The infighting is part of broader rebel-on-rebel clashes that have raged across opposition-held northern Syria since early January. The new offensive appears to have begun late Monday, said an Aleppo-based activist who uses the name Abu al-Hassan.
One video uploaded on social media networks shows fighters of the new coalition firing weapons from the back of a pickup truck. "We will purge this area from the Islamic State," says one fighter. The video appeared authentic and matched Associated Press reporting of the events.
The rebel infighting has killed some 6,000 people — civilians and fighters — since January, according to the Observatory.