Extremist group takes Syria’s key oil field

Associated PressJuly 3, 2014 

— Activists say fighters from the militant Islamic State have taken control of Syria’s largest oil field, near the border with Iraq.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the extremist group captured al-Omar oil field in eastern Deir el-Zour province on Thursday after fighters belonging to a rival group, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, left without firing a bullet.

The al-Omar field has changed hands several times in the course of Syria’s three-year conflict. The Nusra Front and several other Islamic factions captured it from forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in November.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has seized a large expanse of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq, and has declared the establishment of an Islamic state astride the border.

Reported earlier:

One after another, Syrian towns and villages along the Euphrates River bordering Iraq fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on Thursday, as rebel factions affiliated with tribes in the area gave up the fight against the powerful extremist group, activists said.

They said the jihadi group -- which has seized vast swaths of Syria and Iraq -- is now in almost full control of a corridor stretching from the Syrian border town of Boukamal to the government-controlled provincial capital of Deir el-Zour to the northwest.

Led by an ambitious Iraqi militant known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant this week unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the lands it has seized in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq. It also proclaimed al-Baghdadi the head of its new self-styled state governed by Shariah law and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.

The new developments effectively expand and consolidate areas held by the group -- which has shorted its name to the Islamic State -- in territory straddling the border between the two conflict-ridden countries.

The majority of significant Syrian rebel groups that have been fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad have rejected Baghdadi’s declaration. The rebel groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, have fought the extremist group since the beginning of the year. Nearly 7,000 people, mostly fighters, have died in the infighting.

However, Nusra Front appears to be losing the war within a war in Syria as fighters allied with powerful tribes in eastern Syria defect to al-Baghdadi’s group.

On Thursday, a video posted online by activists showed a man in the town of Sheheil, a Nusra Front stronghold, reading a statement, saying: “We have decided to declare our allegiance to the Islamic State and the Caliph of the Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

Another video showed what appeared to be fighters in the nearby Ishara village, announcing that they were ceasing their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

“The clans of the city of Ishara, and the villages around it … and all of the factions in these areas … announce before God that they will cease fighting with the Islamic State,” a man says, reading from a statement as he stands in a courtyard with several other tribal elders. The videos appeared to be genuine and matched AP reporting from the area.

The Deir el-Zour Coordination Committees, a collective of activists in the area, confirmed that militants had entered the town of Mayadeen and Ishara after other rebel fighters withdrew.

Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said some Nusra fighters were still clashing with their rivals at the outskirts of Sheheil Thursday, but added that the al-Qaida-linked group appears close to collapse.

Led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammed al-Golani, the Nusra Front is al-Qaida’s official branch in Syria and was declared a terrorist group by the United States. Its fighters have been one of the most effective forces against Assad’s troops, and have carried out suicide bombings targeting government forces in Syria’s major cities, including the capital Damascus.

Syria’s uprising began in March 2011 as largely peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar Assad’s rule. It escalated into an armed revolt after some opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent. It then turned into a civil war that has claimed more than 160,000 lives, about a third of them civilians, according to opposition activists. The conflict has displaced nearly a third of Syria’s population of 23 million.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service