Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist fighters in Syria’s eastern region are suffering from an acute shortage of weapons and ammunition, as reports emerge that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants are planning to storm the Syrian city of Al-Bukamal on the Iraqi border, according to Syrian opposition activists.
“[ISIS fighters] are now a short way from Al-Bukamal, and are getting ready to attack it from the Iraqi city of Al-Qa’im and also from the west of Al-Bukamal, where the extremist organization’s fighters are in control of vast swaths of territory,” a source in the Syrian opposition said in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat. Al-Qa’im is just over the border from Al-Bukamal, in Iraq’s Anbar province.
The weapons and ammunitions shortage FSA and non-ISIS Islamist fighters are experiencing has been pushing some to lay down their weapons and others to pledge allegiance to ISIS, according to the source.
The source also pointed out that, although this situation has been dragging on for over six months, it “did not push any of the sides supportive of the Free [Syrian] Army to provide it with weapons to repel ISIS.”
The director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul Rahman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS’s commander in the Al-Bukamal region, Saddam Al-Jamal, had crossed from Syrian territory into Al-Qa’im accompanied by a large number of ISIS fighters, “in an attempt to launch operations against Al-Bukamal from Iraqi territory, in the event that the people of Al-Bukamal refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS”.
Fighting in the Al-Qa’im area has already led to a large-scale emigration toward Al-Bukamal, and the Syrian city is now one of the last in the region not under ISIS control. The Al-Qa’im border crossing, which is adjacent to Al-Bukamal city, was taken over by fighters with the Al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al-Qaeda, on June 13, after clashes with Iraqi government forces.
ISIS tightened its full control of Al-Qa’im city on Monday, after clashes with Iraqi official forces who withdrew from the south bank of the Euphrates River on Sunday. ISIS fighters had already wrested control of the north bank two days ago.
Abdul Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat ISIS was currently “focusing on controlling Al-Bukamal and the border crossing with Iraq from both the Syrian and Iraqi sides.”