Photo
Members of the Islamic State and their families in a bus in Syria last week as they were transported to Deir al-Zour Province. Credit Louai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Islamic State convoy stranded in the middle of the Syrian desert has whittled down in size as the American military and Syrian government allies traded accusations on whether food and water was reaching the hundreds of beleaguered bus passengers.

The Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia, which guaranteed safe passage to more than 600 Islamic State armed fighters, including their family members, claimed that American warplanes were not only blocking the convoy from reaching its destination on the Iraq border in eastern Syria, but were also preventing the resupply of food and water, according to the website of the Hezbollah-controlled Al Manar television station.

Hezbollah accuses the U.S. of putting lives at stake by hounding ISIS convoy Iranian Press TV, Video by New 24/7

A spokesman for the American-led coalition fighting in Syria, Col. Ryan Dillon, said the convoy had been resupplied with food and water as recently as Tuesday night. “We are not helping with that, nor are we hindering that from getting there,” he said.

Coalition warplanes continued to monitor the convoy and were ready to bomb any Islamic State units that try to reach it, which the coalition has done repeatedly, although not in the past 48 hours, he said on Thursday from coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

Ten days after the 17-bus convoy set off from the Lebanese border, bound for Abu Kamal in Deir al-Zour Province, close to the Iraq border, it remains stuck in the desert near Sukhna, protected by escorts from the Hezbollah militia, nearly 150 miles from its destination. Eleven buses remain while six have turned back since Sunday.

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Hezbollah, fighting on behalf of the Syrian government, is normally a bitter opponent of the Islamic State. In this case, though, it has seemed determined to honor a deal it made in exchange for the bodies of Lebanese, Iranian and Hezbollah prisoners murdered by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Under the deal, which included the Lebanese Army and the Syrian Army, a group of ISIS fighters that was surrounded on the Lebanese-Syrian border would be able to return to another area the group controls, and keep their weapons.

ISIS Syria Convoy Splits In Two Reuters News Agency video of convoy

The plight of the convoy is just one of many indications of the Islamic State’s declining fortunes. Hezbollah has proved unusually solicitous of the welfare of the militants and their family members.

“The U.S.-led warplanes are besieging the convoy in the heart of the desert, and preventing any aid of the convoy which include sick and wounded people as well as elders,” Al Manar said. “If this situation continues, the imminent death will be the fate of these families, including pregnant women.”

The convoy stalled just as the Syrian Army was pressing an offensive to retake the city of Deir al-Zour, the provincial capital, which the Syrian government said fell on Wednesday, according to the official SANA news agency.

If confirmed, it would be the first time in three years that government forces have controlled the city, where 90,000 people have remained. On Thursday, SANA said government aid convoys had reached Deir al-Zour city, Reuters reported.

Perhaps coincidentally, the route that the ISIS convoy had tried to take, through the town of Sukhna, was also the route used by the Syrian Army to retake Deir al-Zour over the past week, according to official accounts.

The American military, along with its Iraqi allies, denounced the deal made by Hezbollah and declared that it would not let the convoy reach Deir al-Zour, but would not bomb it if that threatened the safety of family members on board.

“Coalition leaders have communicated a course of action to the Russians, providing the Syrian regime an opportunity to remove the women and children from this situation,” the coalition said in a statement dated Tuesday. “The Syrian regime is letting women and children suffer in the desert. This situation is completely on them,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the outgoing coalition commander.

Colonel Dillon said the coalition watched as six of the buses turned back to territory dominated by the Syrian government, toward Palmyra.

When supplies were delivered Tuesday, Colonel Dillon said, “We saw some ISIS fighters break out in fisticuffs, which we assess to be their frustration at being stuck in the middle of nowhere.” He added that the coalition had not “seen any traction” on its proposal to the Russians to separate women and children from the convoy.

There were unconfirmed reports in local media that some of the buses had managed to find alternative routes to reach the Iraqi border, which American officials denied.

“Many false reports on ISIS terrorist convoy,” wrote Brett McGurk, the American presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, in a Twitter message Wednesday. “It has not reached Iraq and will not reach Iraq. Buses still in open desert, with food/water.”

Although official Syrian media made little or no mention of the convoy’s situation, it was a popular topic on social media in the country. One much-shared joke referred to a Lebanese kebab chain, Kababji, and featured an ISIS militant telephoning Hezbollah and ordering food from Kababji as well as a fresh supply of disposable diapers.

Continue reading the main story

The Islamic State convoy stranded in the middle of the Syrian desert has whittled down in size as the American military and Syrian government allies traded accusations on whether food and water was reaching the hundreds of beleaguered bus passengers.

The Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia, which guaranteed safe passage to more than 600 Islamic State armed fighters, including their family members, claimed that American warplanes were not only blocking the convoy from reaching its destination on the Iraq border in eastern Syria, but were also preventing the resupply of food and water, according to the website of the Hezbollah-controlled Al Manar television station.

A spokesman for the American-led coalition fighting in Syria, Col. Ryan Dillon, said the convoy had been resupplied with food and water as recently as Tuesday night. “We are not helping with that, nor are we hindering that from getting there,” he said.

Coalition warplanes continued to monitor the convoy and were ready to bomb any Islamic State units that try to reach it, which the coalition has done repeatedly, although not in the past 48 hours, he said on Thursday from coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

Ten days after the 17-bus convoy set off from the Lebanese border, bound for Abu Kamal in Deir al-Zour Province, close to the Iraq border, it remains stuck in the desert near Sukhna, protected by escorts from the Hezbollah militia, nearly 150 miles from its destination. Eleven buses remain while six have turned back since Sunday.

Hezbollah, fighting on behalf of the Syrian government, is normally a bitter opponent of the Islamic State. In this case, though, it has seemed determined to honor a deal it made in exchange for the bodies of Lebanese, Iranian and Hezbollah prisoners murdered by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Under the deal, which included the Lebanese Army and the Syrian Army, a group of ISIS fighters that was surrounded on the Lebanese-Syrian border would be able to return to another area the group controls, and keep their weapons.

The plight of the convoy is just one of many indications of the Islamic State’s declining fortunes. Hezbollah has proved unusually solicitous of the welfare of the militants and their family members.

“The U.S.-led warplanes are besieging the convoy in the heart of the desert, and preventing any aid of the convoy which include sick and wounded people as well as elders,” Al Manar said. “If this situation continues, the imminent death will be the fate of these families, including pregnant women.”

The convoy stalled just as the Syrian Army was pressing an offensive to retake the city of Deir al-Zour, the provincial capital, which the Syrian government said fell on Wednesday, according to the official SANA news agency.

If confirmed, it would be the first time in three years that government forces have controlled the city, where 90,000 people have remained. On Thursday, SANA said government aid convoys had reached Deir al-Zour city, Reuters reported.

Perhaps coincidentally, the route that the ISIS convoy had tried to take, through the town of Sukhna, was also the route used by the Syrian Army to retake Deir al-Zour over the past week, according to official accounts.

The American military, along with its Iraqi allies, denounced the deal made by Hezbollah and declared that it would not let the convoy reach Deir al-Zour, but would not bomb it if that threatened the safety of family members on board.

“Coalition leaders have communicated a course of action to the Russians, providing the Syrian regime an opportunity to remove the women and children from this situation,” the coalition said in a statement dated Tuesday. “The Syrian regime is letting women and children suffer in the desert. This situation is completely on them,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the outgoing coalition commander.

Colonel Dillon said the coalition watched as six of the buses turned back to territory dominated by the Syrian government, toward Palmyra.

When supplies were delivered Tuesday, Colonel Dillon said, “We saw some ISIS fighters break out in fisticuffs, which we assess to be their frustration at being stuck in the middle of nowhere.” He added that the coalition had not “seen any traction” on its proposal to the Russians to separate women and children from the convoy.

There were unconfirmed reports in local media that some of the buses had managed to find alternative routes to reach the Iraqi border, which American officials denied.

“Many false reports on ISIS terrorist convoy,” wrote Brett McGurk, the American presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, in a Twitter message Wednesday. “It has not reached Iraq and will not reach Iraq. Buses still in open desert, with food/water.”

Although official Syrian media made little or no mention of the convoy’s situation, it was a popular topic on social media in the country. One much-shared joke referred to a Lebanese kebab chain, Kababji, and featured an ISIS militant telephoning Hezbollah and ordering food from Kababji as well as a fresh supply of disposable diapers.

Nytimes

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