Iran militias expel Assad-linked group from east Syria province

Iranian militias in eastern Syria have taken control of the water crossings in the governorate and city of Deir Ez-Zor, expelling fighters belonging to one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s closest businessmen, Hussam Qaterji.

According to sources close to the local news site DeirEzzor24, the Qaterji group has controlled all of the water crossings in the city and used its monopoly to smuggle oil, grains and other materials from areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to those controlled by the Assad regime.

The unidentified sources revealed today that Iranian militias in the east of Syria, an area where they hold considerable influence, had seized the crossings along various towns and cities in the Deir Ez-Zor province and expelled Qaterji’s guards and dismantled his local smuggling network.

The setting up of the businessman’s network was reported back in July, when the Syrian Observer revealed that Qaterji was doing so with the support of Syria’s military intelligence, both for his own private business interests and to facilitate the transport of oil from the SDF-controlled north-east of the country to Damascus and its territories in the west and south-west.

READ: What’s next for Syria?

The expelling of Qaterji’s group and the bold move by the Iranian militias reveals a deepening conflict within the camp of the Assad regime and its allies consisting of Iran, Russia and various Arab tribes. It comes amid subtle ongoing tensions between Iran and Russia in Syria, with both sides competing for influence in the conflict-ridden country, particularly due to the fact that they have largely been responsible for maintaining Assad’s rule and territorial resurgence over the years.

The incident also comes a few days after the SDF reportedly issued a command to close all of the crossings leading to regime-held territory, causing further tensions between the two sides and jeopardising their complex relationship. Yesterday, the regime labelled the SDF “separatist terrorist militias” in a letter to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, emphasising that it intends to “liberate” all Syrian territory.