March 18, 2015
By Osama Abu Zeid and Brent Eng
AMMAN: The Islamic State reportedly captured several key points around a regime-controlled city in east Homs province near the historical ruins of Palmyra on Tuesday as it attempts to commandeer the nearby gas and oil fields, local media activists told Syria Direct.
“[IS] targeted a checkpoint and a military platoon near Sukhna and a number of regime positions located in the surrounding area,” Osama Tadmuri, the alias of the director of the Local Coordination Committee for Palmyra, told Syria Direct.
The regime considers Sukhna the last line of defense between IS forces invading from the town’s north and regime-controlled Palmyra to the town’s south. A victory for IS would give it access to some of the richest oil and gas fields in the country—a crucial gain for the jihadist group as the country suffers from an acute fuel crisis and as the US-led coalition continues to target its oil production facilities in Deir e-Zor, Al-Hasakah and Raqqa.
The pro-regime Syrian Center for Documentation confirmed the fighting between regime and IS forces, reporting that “the news indicates that [IS] is advancing at the moment.”
The Islamic State is targeting Sukhna “because it is the closest town to Palmyra,” Ahmed al-Khalef, a pro-opposition media activist in Sukhna, told Syria Direct.
The regime uses Sukhna to defend the military warehouses, the airport and the military prison, in addition to the gas fields in the surrounding area, said al-Kahlef.
Located roughly 80 kilometers northeast of Palmyra, Sukhna sits along the highway between Palmyra and Deir e-Zor city, the majority of which is under IS rule.
One of the oil and gas stations to the south of Sukhna has pipelines that stretch into Iraq, while another feeds into a government oil refinery in the city of Baniyas in Tartous province, said Tadmuri, making the town particularly valuable for the regime.
Meanwhile, pro-IS supporters on social media say that Iranian forces arrived at Sukhna on Tuesday from their positions in Palmyra to support the regime forces.
Syria Direct could not confirm these claims.
Iranian forces reportedly came to Palmyra last month with the purpose of training regime militias to protect the nearby regime gas fields, according to pro-opposition news outlet Zaman al-Wasl.
IS and regime forces have repeatedly clashed and exchanged control of other gas fields in east Homs for the past six months, most notably the Shaer gas fields located northwest of Palmyra.
The government currently maintains control over both the Shaer gas fields and the nearby eponymous mountain.