The U.S.-backed Syrian militias will not let government forces cross the Euphrates River in their bid to recover eastern Syria, setting a red line for President Bashar al-Assad as both sides converge on Islamic State in Deir ez-Zor, reported Reuters citing their commander.
Militia commander Abu Khawla said a civilian administration would be set up to run areas of Deir ez-Zor province being captured from Islamic State by his fighters, including its oil fields. The Syrian government was “not fit to lead and rule the people”, he said.
The Deir al-Zor military council, fighting as part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has advanced toward Deir ez-Zor from the eastern side of the Euphrates River since launching an offensive into the province a week ago.
Government forces, supported by the Russian air force and Iran-backed militias, have simultaneously advanced into Deir ez-Zor from the west. Last week, they broke an Islamic State siege of the provincial capital, Deir ez-Zor city, which sits on the western bank of the river.
Abu Khawla warned government forces and their militia allies against firing across the river as his fighters close in – something he said had happened in recent days.
“Now we have 3 km between us and the eastern riverbank, once our forces reach the area, any shot fired into that area we will consider an attack on the military council,” he said.
“We have notified the regime and Russia that we are coming to the Euphrates riverbank, and they can see our forces advancing,” he said. “We do not allow the regime or its militias to cross to the eastern riverbank.”