President Bashar al-Assad’s forces evacuated two security installations at Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border on Tuesday as rebels made gains in the strategically important area after a week of heavy fighting, opposition sources said.
Security forces withdrew from the Airforce Intelligence and Political Security compounds in the town, 120 kms (75 miles) southeast of the city of Deir al-Zor, activists and a Free Syrian Army official said.
“The regime still has a Military Intelligence compound and Albu Kamal airport. It’s a matter of time before the compound falls. The airport is more difficult,” Abu Mahmoud, a rebel commander, said by satellite phone from the town.
Muhaimen al-Rumaid, military coordinator for the Syrian Rebel Front said that Albu Kamal had effectively fallen but that Assad’s forces were still shelling the town from a border police base several kilometers (miles) away.
Rumaid said the border crossing with Iraq, which Iraqi authorities had closed from their side has been under rebel control for several weeks.
“Controlling Albu Kamal means curbing the regime’s supply line from Iraq while improving the logistics of the rebels through an open connection to Iraqi tribes across the border,” he said.
Like the rest of the eastern Deir al-Zor province, Albu Kamal is a Sunni Muslim town with family and clan connections to Iraq’s Sunni heartland.
Decades long alliances between Syria’s ruling elite, who belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and the eastern tribes in Deir al-Zor began collapsing after Assad extended a military crackdown on the protest movement against his rule to the region.