Syrian government forces have expelled the last Islamic State group fighters from the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor in a two-month-long campaign backed by Russian air power, according to a monitoring group.
Syrian regime and allied fighters broke a three-yearIsis siege of a regime enclave in the city in early September.
There was no immediate confirmation from official sources. A Syrian military source earlier said government troops only held around 80% of the city.
The city’s fall marks another key defeat for the militants, who have in recent months lost most of the territory they seized in a lightning 2014 advance across Syria and Iraq.
Deir ez-Zor is the capital of an oil-rich province of the same name that borders Iraq. After Syria’s uprising broke out in 2011 with anti-government protests, rebel groups and jihadists seized parts of Deir ez-Zor and the surrounding province.
But in 2014, as Isis rampaged across Syria and Iraq, it seized the territory held by rival jihadist and rebel forces in the province and closed in on Deir ez-Zor.
By January 2015, it had seized parts of the city and imposed a siege on government forces and civilians in the rest of it. Regime forces managed to cling on to their enclave despite regular attacks.
Along with ally Russia, the regime has regularly carried out airstrikes on Isis-held rural areas, but the militants were still able to seize more territory in January.
Their advance split the government-held zones in two: a northern enclave and a southern area near the city’s military airport. At one point, Isis held around half of Deir ez-Zor, including several central neighbourhoods, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
But the army and allied fighters broke the siege on the northern part of the city on 5 September, entering via the Brigade 137 base on its western edge. Estimates of the number of people living in the city vary, but many agree the population has shrunk dramatically from its pre-war figure of 300,000.
Before the siege was broken, the United Nations said more than 90,000 people remained in areas under government control.
The siege created food shortages, sent prices soaring and limited access to medicine and health care. Syria’s government brought in supplies via military aircraft, a process hampered by security concerns and damage to the airport by Isis bombardment.
The UN began air dropping aid into the city in April 2016, but the programme was briefly suspended after the militant advance in January overran the aid drop zone.
Activists have also reported dire humanitarian conditions in Isis-held territory, particularly as Syria’s army neared, cutting supply routes.
With regime forces back in control of most of the city, heavy clashes claimed more than 70 lives as government forces captured two new districts and the municipal stadium from 28 to 29 October, the Observatory said. The advance left Isis encircled between the city and the Euphrates river, it added.
The group has already been expelled from neighbouring Raqqa province and is now confined to just a few pockets of territory in Deir ez-Zor province.
The province is rich with oil and gas fields that served as a key revenue stream for Isis at the height of its power in 2014.
The regime offensive against the group has been waged largely on the western side of the Euphrates, which cuts diagonally across the province.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by a US-led coalition, is waging a second, separate offensive against the militants in the east of the province.
The SDF announced the recapture of Al-Omar, one of Syria’s largest oilfields, on 22 October – a week after regime forces had seized the nearby town of Mayadeen from Isis.
On Thursday, the Observatory said Syria’s army and allied fighters had captured the last areas held by the militants, with Russian air support, after seizing three new neighbourhoods.