Syrian government forces on Sunday briefly captured four villages east of the Euphrates River in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour after rare clashes with U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters before losing the area in a counteroffensive by the Kurdish-led force.
The area close to the border with Iraq has been the site of recent clashes between the two sides who had been focusing on fighting the Islamic State group. The IS had declared its caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.
Crossings into the east bank of the Euphrates in eastern Syria by government forces have been rare.
State news agency SANA said the villages were held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, adding that they are close to the provincial capital, also called Deir el-Zour. The SDF said in a statement later that it regained control of the whole area it earlier lost.
Much of Deir el-Zour province was held by the Islamic State group but over the past year Syrian government forces captured most areas west of the Euphrates while SDF fighters took areas east of the river.
On Feb. 7, pro-Syrian government fighters attacked SDF positions east of the river and faced a ferocious U.S. counterattack that left dozens, including Russians, dead.
SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said in a statement earlier Sunday that the Syrian army attack coincided with “our forces’ preparations to complete the Island Storm campaign” to liberate the remaining areas east of the river from IS. Gabriel said the Syrian army and pro-government fighters began targeting SDF fighters to impede “the launching of our campaign against terrorism. Our forces are responding in self-defense.”
“We affirm that we are determined to eradicate terrorism from its roots and to assert our right to self-defense,” Gabriel said about IS. “We consider this aggression by regime forces to be a support for terrorism and falls within the attempts to impede the war on terrorism.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said Sunday’s offensive left six SDF fighters dead and 22 wounded adding that there were also casualties on the government side.
Gabriel issued another statement later saying all the area lost earlier was regained by SDF fighters. He said Syrian troops were backed by Russian fighters adding that after the SDF’s counteroffensive, government forces “are now far away.”
The Observatory’s chief Rami Abdurrahman said SDF fighters took back most of the area except for one village. —SANA