Urfa – Enab Baladi
Even though Deir ez-Zor’s residents are united in their sadness at the situation in their city and concern over its future and that of those who haven’t yet left the city, their positions diverge when it comes to the battles taking place in Deir ez-Zor between ISIS and regime forces for the past two weeks. These battles are considered the most violent to have taken place in the past two and a half years since ISIS gained control over the city.
These differences stem from personal views on the ongoing conflict in the area, which has been aggravated by its location as the people of Deir ez-Zor are scattered outside and inside Syria.
Abu Malek, who works in Urfa in Turkey, told Enab Baladi, “I wish ISIS would enter the besieged neighborhoods in the city and put an end to the battle so that the siege and killing would come to an end. I want the regime to end, even if it’s at the hands of devils.”
According to Hassan, a former Free Army member, many people in Deir ez-Zor do not share Abu Malek’s views and consider ISIS’ arrival as a danger that threatens the existence of the city and its diverse makeup.
Hassan told Enab Baladi that the “entry of ISIS into the besieged neighborhoods would mean a real massacre against the residents. The fate of more than 100,000 civilians is under threat. ISIS has prepared for this battle and they have their weapons ready. They are also supported by the apostasy fatwas they issued against the civilians inside the besieged neighborhoods more than a year ago.”
Line of Fire
The war is now beyond the control of all parties. Civilians have become mere numbers added to the rising death toll in the area. “This city was pulsing with life before they turned it into scattered dust and abandoned ruins. Some people still want more celebrations of death in this city”, added Hassan.
“Stuck in hell”. This is how Umm Qusaim described the situation for civilians in the two parts of the city where they are being besieged and killed by all sides. “The flames of war, the siege, the brutal acts of the regime and its militias. It’s the same situation on the other side of the city, just with swords and Afghan clothing.”
Only a small number of residents are still left in Deir ez-Zor and they are trying hard to maintain their presence. Umm Qusaim adds, “What will happen if the city is emptied of all its residents?”.
The “Islamic State” has issued a decision ordering those living in the areas of the city it controls to leave under the pretext of heavy shelling over these areas and the massacres that took place in the last few days in the neighborhoods of Hamidiyya, al-Aradhi and al-Ummal.
Fear hangs over everyone in Deir ez-Zor, according to some of its residents who told Enab Baladi that they were afraid the battles might lead to “extermination, forced displacement and arrests, like what happened in Iraqi villages and cities where ISIS celebrated its victory by slaughtering dozens of people”. Add to that the disappearance of hundreds of residents who were captured by ISIS members and never heard from again.
When ISIS captured al-Baghliyya, it detained a number of health workers and their families, as well as a long list of people who disappeared at ISIS checkpoints. The kidnappings targeted hundreds of young men, in particular, who were trying to leave the besieged neighborhoods.
Since the beginning of the campaign launched by ISIS, dozens of civilians have been killed in both sides of the city, while those still alive await their fate as ISIS’ forces continue to advance. The other side of the city, which is held by ISIS, is experiencing daily bombardment using various types of heavy weaponry as well as by Syrian and Russian warplanes.
The bloodshed continues as debates rage on social media pages between ISIS supporters on one hand, who cheer on as the organization advances into the besieged neighborhoods to take revenge against the regime and its militias, and those who oppose ISIS’ advance on the other, fearing its consequences for the area’s remaining civilians and infrastructure. This takes place as civic campaigns launched by a number of activists aim to draw the world’s attention to the tragedy of Deir ez-Zor and the conditions its civilians are facing.