Syrian regime forces have announced that they have broken the siege of Deir Ez-Zor, a city once home to four churches and a large Christian community. The churches in the city have been slowly destroyed since 2012, with the buildings first becoming causalities in the Syrian Civil War before becoming further wrecked by ISIS when the militant group took control of the city two years later. Most of the city’s Christian population have fled in the years since, leaving behind a city filled with the memories of a once strong Christian community.
09/06/2017 Syria (The Jerusalem Post) – “Today you stood side-by-side with your comrades who came to your rescue and fought the hardest battles to break the siege of the city,” Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly told commanders in a call on September 5th.
The Syrian army has broken a 28-month siege of Deir ez-Zor, a city on the Euphrates river that is also the capital of a governorate by the same name in eastern Syria. It is a symbolic military victory and strategically important development.
Deir Ez-Zor was once a more vibrant and diverse city, home to around 250,000 people, on the lush Euphrates river. It had a unique pedestrian suspension bridge built in 1927 during the French mandate. The bridge was destroyed in 2013 during artillery shelling between the regime and opposition.
The city also had an Armenian Genocide Martyrs Memorial church that commemorated the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the neighboring Syrian desert in 1915. The church was blown up in September 2014 by ISIS, as the extremists swept through Syria and Iraq, conquering around 90,000 sq km of land.
Other churches of the Syriac and Latin Christians, who made up around 10,000 residents of the city, were damaged in the fighting.
The city came under a full siege in May 2015 when the Sukhnah-Deir Ez-Zor highway was cut by ISIS, according to Leith Abou Fadel, founder and editor of Al-Masdar News.
“Thousands of students attend the university and schools remain open.”
Then the city went dark as its electric supply was also cut off. But the Syrian regime forces led by Maj. Gen. Issam Zehreddine, a Syrian Druze from the Republican Guard, were able to hold out against ISIS. They anchored themselves around a military airbases and neighborhoods on the western side of the river. Around 100,000 civilians remained and food and water supplies dwindled.
According to Aron Lund, a Middle East analyst, water supplies were only available once a week for several hours. To save the residents, the World Food Programme began airdropping food in April 2016.
Pallets with oil, lentils, rice, beans, sugar and salt were chucked out of the back of an Illyushin (Il-76) aircraft operating from Amman.
With near-daily flights, 100 airdrops were made by August 2016, and 300 by August 2017, according to the WFP.
The situation grew worse a few months later, when an ISIS offensive cut the airfield off from the remaining regime-held civilian areas.