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SDF, allies set up civilian council to run Deir Ezzor

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather in northern Deir al-Zor province ahead of an offensive against Daesh militants, Syria February 21, 2017. (REUTERS)
DEIR EZZOR, Syria: US-allied militias in northern Syria have announced the formation of a civilian council to govern the oil rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor where they are racing with the Syrian regime’s troops to capture territory held by Daesh.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes Arab militias but is dominated by the powerful Kurdish people’s protection unit (YPG) militia, launched an operation in Deir Ezzor province which borders Iraq earlier this month which captured its northern countryside and advanced east of the Euphrates River.
On Saturday, they seized a major gas field in Deir Ezzor province from Daesh militants in rapid advances that preempted the Syrian regime that was also heading in that direction.
In a separate offensive, Syrian regime troops and Iranian backed militias with Russian air power had also this month broke a years-long Daesh siege of government-held parts of Deir Ezzor on the other side of the Euphrates river.
The advances against Daesh have brought US-backed forces and the Syrian regime side, backed by Russia and Iran, into close proximity.
The assaults by the Russian-backed Syrian army and the US-backed SDF have at times raised fears of clashes that could stoke tensions between the competing world powers.
The SDF appointed 100 tribal figures to meet and elect a council to run the province on Sunday.
In a final communique, the council said its priority was the return of tens of thousands of displaced residents of the province who fled during the conflict and restoring basic utilities. It urged the US-led coalition to provide aid to the war-torn province.
“We want to cement ties among the people of the province,” the statement of the newly formed Deir Ezzor civil council said.
The extent of Kurdish control in the eastern province that lies at the heart of Arab tribal area is sensitive both for residents and for Ankara.
Many local Arab tribes from the region also complain they are marginalized in decision making and blame the YPG for discrimination against them, including the forced conscription of their youths. The YPG denies these allegations.
On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said Russian airstrikes had killed 45 members of an extremist group in the northwestern province of Idlib.
It was unclear why the strikes, which took place Saturday, targeted members of the Faylaq Al-Sham rebel group, which has taken part in peace talks supervised by Moscow in the Kazakh capital Astana.
The strikes hit the group in the province of Idlib, which is part of a so-called “de-confliction” zone agreed in a deal between Russia, Iran and Turkey.
The Observatory initially reported a lower toll, but said the figure had risen as bodies were recovered after the strike on one of the rebel group’s headquarters on the outskirts of the village of Tal Mardikh.
Faylaq Al-Sham is a radical group considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
It has fought against the former Al-Qaeda affiliate that now effectively controls nearly all of Idlib after chasing its former rebel allies from their positions in fighting this summer.
A spokesman for Faylaq Al-Sham confirmed the group’s headquarters had been targeted, despite their participation in the last round of talks in Astana.
“Our participation in Astana does not in any way mean that Russia is a friendly or neutral country,” Idriss Al-Raed said.
“The Russian bombing is not surprising, since its policy since its intervention in Syria is based on criminality and killing,” he added.
Russia began an intervention in Syria in support of ally President Bashar Assad in 2015, and has helped the regime win back large parts of the country.
Moscow also helped broker a deal for four truce zones, one of which includes Idlib province, in an agreement with Iran and Turkey inked in May.
The three other zones are around the capital Damascus, in southern Syria and in the center of the country.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

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