Deir ez-Zor, located on the shore of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is the largest city of Easter Syria and the capital of the eponymous province. As the seventh largest city in Syria, it was inhabited by 300,000 people prior to the conflicts. Its mixed population was comprised of Arabic, Kurdish, Armenian and Asyrian peoples. Deir ez-Zor was a tourist, cultural and agricultural center as well as an important travel hub, located at the crossroads between Syria and neighboring Iraq. However, the city and the province are of paramount importance due to the exploitation of rich oil fields located there that are used for the production of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Conflicts between the rebels and the government forces lasted from mid-June 2011 until the beginning of 2014, after which the so-called Islamic State began supressing the rebel forces and occupying practically the entire territory of the province of Deir ez-Zor, save for parts of the city, the airport and several neighboring cities that remained under the control of the Syrian Armed Forces. From that moment, the living conditions in the besieged parts of the city become more difficult. The so-called Islamic State discontinued the distribution of electricity, which also impacted the availability of drinking water, which is provided via a single water station. Due to lack of food resources, the inhabitants of Deir ez-Zor suffered from extreme malnutrition. The branch agency of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization – The World Food Program, began distributing humanitarian aid by air in April 2016. The distribution of humanitarian packages in the field was conducted by the Syrian branch of the Red Crescent. However, on 17 January 2017, following the attack of the so-called Islamic State, the encalve split into two parts. The airport and the eastern part of the city were devided from the western part of the city which was inhabited by 93,500 people. The terrorist offensive caused the World Food Program to discontinue flights and humanitarian aid package distribution to inhabitants of the besieged parts of Deir ez-Zor. Prior to the discontinuation of the operation, the World Food Program conducted 177 flights, delivered meals to 93,500 people, as well as medical equipment and other supplies. The gross weight of the supplies provided was 3,300 tons, and it was delivered via 4,500 pallets and 10,000 parachutes. Nonetheless, on 29 January, World Food Program spokesperson Bettina Luescher, said that the delivery of humanitarian assistance continued with the help of government forces stationed in the city. In the meantime, food, medicine and other aid were delivered via Russian and Syrian airforce helicopters.
The health sector is suffering grave consequences due to the lack of qualified medical personel, which fled the city, and the shortage of medication for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and asthma. As a result, three clinics have been shut down, and medical aid is now provided in the four remaining medical centers.
Terrorists of the so-called Islamic State are shelling the besieged parts of the city on a daily basis and are attempting to breach lines of defense. This further aggravates the already difficult position that civilians find themselves in. According to estimates from March 2017, some 72,000 citizens are still stranded in the city. There are indications that the so-called Islamic State will move its capital to Deir ez-Zor after they have been ultimately defeated in and driven out of Mosul and Raka. In the hope that they will instead greet freedom and peace, the people of Deir ez-Zor remain hostages in their own homes.
- Besieged by ISIS: Photographs from Inside the Syrian City of Deir ez-Zor, TIME, 11 June 2015. Available at: http://time.com/3916518/isis-syria-photographs/
- Justice for Life Observatory in Deir Ezzor, 420 Days of Siege Laid on Deir Ezzor: The De Facto Reality of the Besieged Neighborhoods with Numbers, February 2016. p. 9. Available at: https://jfldz.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Siege-of-Deir-Ezzor.pdf
- The United NationsOffice for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Syrian Arab Republic: Deir-ez-Zor Flash Update No. 2, 28 January 2017, p. 1. Available at: http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/deir-ez-zor_flash_update_2_28jan2017.pdf
- Syria: Heavy fighting forces UN food relief agency to suspend airdrops in Deir ez-Zor, United Nations, 17 January 2017. Available at:
- The United NationsOffice for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Syrian Arab Republic: Deir-ez-Zor Flash Update No. 2, 28. Januar 2017, p. 3. Available at: http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/deir-ez-zor_flash_update_2_28jan2017.pdf
- Justice for Life Observatory in Deir Ezzor, 420 Days of Siege Laid on Deir Ezzor: The De Facto Reality of the Besieged Neighborhoods with Numbers, February 2016, p. 9. Available at: https://jfldz.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Siege-of-Deir-Ezzor.pdf
- PAX & The Syria Institute, Siege Watch Fifth Quarterly Report on Besieged Areas in Syria – November 2016-January 2017, p. 48. Available at: https://siegewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/pax-tsi-siege-watch-5-final-r.pdf
Photo: The Interpreter.