Why the interest in the roads to Raqqa?
Raqqa is in a fertile area by the River Eurphates, hence it becoming the self-styled capital of Islamic State. With the tide of the war having turned, the Syrian Army has been working its way towards Raqqa but the ground attack on Raqqa cannot come from just any direction the army wants. That is because more or less everything away from the vicinity of the Euphrates is desert.
In fact there are just two roads to Raqqa, one from As Sukhnah and the other from Deir Ez Zour.
Reuters reports today 5th September 2017, that the Syrian Army has reached Deir Ez Zour and broken the siege.
Syrian Army soldiers have been encircled and besieged by ISIS since 2014. Naturally, there was a fear that if ISIS captured the city, there would be a massacre. As it is, those soldiers are now free to become part of the onward advance to Raqqa once the whole of Deir Ez Zour is recaptured. It is not yet, and ISIS hold at least half of the city.
Apart from Syrian Army soldiers, Deir Ez Zour is home to 200,000 civilians, and that is going to present a difficult proposition to the Syrian Army, trying to disentangle ISIS operatives and sympathisers from ordinary civilians. Interviewing and processing 200,000 people is a big job.
Since Spring 2016 food has been air-dropped into the city under the United Nations’ World Food Programme. Without it, would there have been many deaths from starvation? It’s natural to ask how that aid will have affected the attitude of civilians who endured the siege.