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Moscow & Washington Renew Deir Ezzor Understandings: Oil Race is Accelerating
Suhaib Anjarini

Conflicting stories about an airdrop at the Conoco gas plant (eastern Deir Ezzor countryside) have been widespread on social networking sites, while Syrian sources confirmed that the Syrian flag will soon by flying over the plant. This comes amid a new Russian-American consensus on Deir Ezzor, which involves American recognition of the [Syrian] army's advance east of the Euphrates, while leaving the door open to the takeover of more areas by the "Syrian Democratic Forces".


It was a new "update" to the Russian-American understandings regarding Deir Ezzor. The ongoing coordination between the two sides was not affected by developments in the province during the past week, including the aerial targeting of the SDF or QSD [Syrian Democratic Forces] - the arm of the American "coalition" on the ground - and the shelling that the Syrian army was subjected to during its advance east of the Euphrates.

The two incidents were shelved amid the insistence of Moscow and Washington to prevent any clash between the Syrian army and its allies on the one hand and SDF on the other, and to subdue any incident before it escalates. Although Washington sought to impose "red lines" preventing the army from crossing the Euphrates River, a Syrian decision was made before the siege on Deir Ezzor was lifted not to stop the operations and to try to cross into the eastern bank as soon as possible.

The crossing which Al-Akhbar reported on two weeks ago (Issue No. 3268), revealing that it was one of the army's priorities, was completed "in record time and was an introduction to bigger steps", according to reassurances from a Syrian field source. The move played a pivotal role in destroying the American approach to the battle of Deir Ezzor. This approach was primarily based on establishing the Euphrates River as a dividing line between the areas controlled by the military and areas controlled by the US-backed SDF.

The Syrian source told al-Akhbar that "the Americans threatened to target any Syrian forces crossing the river, but that did not affect the army's choices." It seems that the Syrian insistence has resulted in an American recognition. One of the things that led to this recognition is that Washington is still inclined to avoid engaging in open and direct confrontations with the Syrian army and its allies. Moreover, an influential wing within the SDF refuses to engage in such battles. SDF confirmed to Al-Akhbar its commitment to "what the Russians and the Americans agree on."

"The matter is in the hands of the Russians and Americans. There are meetings between the two sides in order to contain any crisis that hinders the fight against terrorism," said the official spokesman for the SDF Talal Selo.

Selo stressed that "the issue of the army crossing the east of the Euphrates is one of the things that the two sides agreed would not happen. Now it seems that both sides are discussing other formulas to control the understandings." Informed sources told Al-Akhbar that "the latest version of the Russian-American understandings on Deir Ezzor renewed the commitment of the two sides to prevent a clash between their allies on the ground."

According to the same sources, the understandings stressed that "neither side's ally attempts to prevent the other from attacking and liberating areas under the control of the extremist Daesh organization, provided that these areas are not operational ground of the other side." While these understandings may contribute to preventing a clash between the two sides (at least at the current stage), they also open the door to an accelerated race between them for control of Daesh's "inheritance".

Within this context, oil and gas fields stand out as the most valuable prize. The success of either side in seizing control over the energy resources means keeping them until the "moment of truth" comes, which will either force them into a settlement or result in unprecedented battles. Deir Ezzor houses a number of the largest Syrian oil fields, such as Al-Tanak (Sheiytat desert) and Al-Omar (northeast of Al-Mayadeen), as well as the Conoco gas plant (Deir Ezzor's eastern countryside).

The latter is one of the most important sources of Syrian gas. The extremist organization seized control of it in May 2014. There were conflicting reports yesterday about an air landing operation conducted at the plant and the identity of side that carried out the landing. Some sources said the landing was a Syrian-Russian operation, while other sources confirmed it was a US landing. As SDF sources were reluctant to give any information on the issue, while Syrian sources told Al-Akhbar that "the Syrian flag will fly over the plant, and the details will be officially disclosed in due course." In addition to the exceptional economic importance of the plant, capturing it is an important step in the accelerated race for influence east of the Euphrates.

It is expected that the northern regions of the eastern Euphrates will be among Syria's top priorities during the current phase in an effort to demarcate lines of control that will limit the rush of the SDF especially as the group continued to advance in the vicinity of the industrial city. There were indications of SDF intentions to launch synchronized attacks from areas it controls in Deir Ezzor and Hasaka to expel the terror organization along the line stretching from Markada (Hasaka's southern countryside to Al-Sour (north-east Deir Ezzor) to Al-Hajna (eastern Deir Ezzor countryside).

On a related note, the Syrian army made significant progress on Wednesday in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor (West of the Euphrates) by capturing a number of villages and farms in the vicinity of the Al-Tabani town. Such progress would pave the way for the army to seize control of the entire west bank of the Euphrates and reach the south-eastern countryside of Raqqa, which has so far constituted a stronghold for Daesh.

Source: Al-Akhbar Newspaper, Translated by website team

22-09-2017 | 08:03

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