Deir Ezzor: Euphrates crossings open for smugglers; Closed to people

Al-Khuzaim crossing in the town of al-Shahil, east of Deir Ezzor - November 7, 2020 (Facebook/Naher Media)

Al-Khuzaim crossing in the town of al-Shahil, east of Deir Ezzor - November 7, 2020 (Facebook/Naher Media)


The two banks of the Euphrates River, east of Deir Ezzor governorate, were famous for being a smuggling route for fuel and food supplies between the areas controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the east and the Syrian regime and its allied militias in the west.

Groups are active in the region, working to smuggle goods, commodities, and fuel between the two banks, via small wooden boats, or temporary bridges connecting the two banks of the river, which the SDF closes during repeated security operations.

The areas under SDF control in Deir Ezzor are linked by about ten river crossings with areas of influence of the regime forces. There are also many “unofficial” crossings that have been active in smuggling operations for several years.

Despite the need of the residents of villages and towns east of the Euphrates for an open road to move towards areas under the control of the Syrian regime for medical purposes that are not available to the Autonomous Administration (the political umbrella of the SDF, these crossings were not opened to them except within the framework of human smuggling operations.

The residents of the region are forced to head towards Raqqa governorate, where there is a single humanitarian crossing linking the two areas of influence together, and they travel hundreds of kilometers in order to complete their way towards regime-controlled areas.

Long distance and stressful costs

Obadah al-Ali, 60, finds himself forced to travel for more than 18 hours to reach Damascus via the Tabqa crossing, with the aim of treating his wife, who suffers from breast cancer, given that the crossings on both banks of the Euphrates River are closed even to humanitarian cases, he told Enab Baladi.

What makes matters more complicated for al-Ali is the high cost of transportation, in addition to the suffering of the trip itself, as transportation fees reached 80,000 pounds per passenger. Given his urgent need to travel to Damascus once a month with his wife and daughter, this incurs “significant” financial costs for him.

Al-Ali added to Enab Baladi that opening the al-Salihiya crossing, located northeast of Deir Ezzor, will facilitate the lives of residents and their return to their homes and villages in the governorate, especially since the ability to move between the western and eastern sides of the village is extremely important for residents who face great challenges in their daily lives.

Al-Salihiya gains its importance from the fact that it contains a crossing linking the governorates of Deir Ezzor and al-Hasakah. The town includes two different administrations at the same time, as the regime controls the eastern part of it, while the SDF is stationed in the southern part.

Ahmed al-Marei, a resident of the town of al-Tayyana, east of Deir Ezzor, told Enab Baladi that he had to transport the body of one of his relatives through the Tabqa crossing when he died, and the process of transporting the body took about two days due to the long distance and difficulties in traveling between the governorates, due to the refusal to allow him to cross the al-Salihiya crossing on the Euphrates River.

An obstacle for students

Youssef al-Ashram, a university student in the city of Deir Ezzor who lives east of the Euphrates River, told Enab Baladi that he faces great difficulties in bearing transportation costs, as he spends about 200,000 pounds going back and forth weekly from the SDF-controlled areas east of the river, towards Deir Ezzor, as he does not have a house to stay in, due to high rental prices, so he is forced to return towards the east of the river.

The university student explained that he travels a distance of more than 120 kilometers on each trip from the town of al-Baghouz to the town of Hamar al-Ali so that he can cross between areas of influence. He pointed out that opening the crossings will reduce the financial burden on him and on all residents of the region who use those crossings and will contribute to alleviating the economic pressure they face.

Al-Ashram expressed his concern about the suffering faced by patients, humanitarian cases, and university students in the region, explaining that the region suffers from medical and service neglect while university students are forced to travel long distances to reach their universities.

He pointed out that there are crossings that can be opened and managed away from political matters, such as the al-Salihiya crossing northeast of Deir Ezzor, the al-Barid crossing, the al-Ashara crossing, or Hajin and al-Baghouz crossings to the east.

The closure of irregular crossings in the Deir Ezzor countryside dates back to August 21, against the backdrop of armed confrontations that took place in Deir Ezzor between the SDF and local tribal fighters, the repercussions of which continue on the region to this day.

The US-backed SDF took control of the eastern bank of the Euphrates River at the expense of the Islamic State group, while the regime, supported by Russia and Iran, was able to control the west bank and seven villages east of the river at the expense of the group itself in 2019.

Security incidents

Since the beginning of November, the SDF began establishing military points on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, opposite the regime-controlled areas east of Deir Ezzor governorate, coinciding with an increase in attacks that the SDF said were supported by the regime and coming from areas under its control.

The Naher Media website, which mainly specializes in reporting news from Deir Ezzor, said that the SDF launched a project aimed at deploying military points between the town of al-Jazarat, west of Deir Ezzor, all the way to al-Baghouz in the far east of the governorate.

A fighter in the ranks of the domestic Kurdish security (Asayish) affiliated with the Autonomous Administration said in a previous interview with Enab Baladi that the General Command is working hard to strengthen military points throughout the Deir Ezzor countryside in response to “security challenges,” especially with the repeated attacks that regime forces launch on the region from time to time.

Since the first days of the confrontations that began on August 28, the towns of eastern Deir Ezzor fell out of the control of the SDF under the attacks of Arab tribal militants from the region. With the continuation of the battles and the cases of hit-and-run that Deir Ezzor witnessed, the SDF regained control of the region, but it still takes hits in it.

The SDF accused the tribes rising up against it of being affiliated with the Syrian regime, and receiving funding from it and from the Iranian militias stationed west of the Euphrates River, since the first days of the confrontations, and it adopted this narrative in its media statements about the confrontations.

The regime did not hide its position on these events, as the Foreign Minister of the regime’s government, Faisal Mekdad, expressed the regime’s government’s support for the Arab tribes in the Deir Ezzor countryside in their battle against the SDF.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Deir Ezzor, Obadah al-Sheikh, contributed to this report.


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