Islamic State ‘still a threat’ to the regime amidst battles for natural gas fields

AMMAN: The Syrian air force claims it conducted multiple sorties over the eastern Homs desert on Monday

AMMAN: The Syrian air force claims it conducted multiple sorties over the eastern Homs desert on Monday, “destroying dozens of armored vehicles used by the Islamic State,” official state news agency SANA reported, after IS captured two natural gas fields over the weekend.

Last Thursday, Islamic State (IS) forces captured the Shaer natural gas field, the largest under regime control, located 50km northwest of Palmyra in eastern Homs province, Al Jazeera reported.

After capturing Shaer, IS launched missile and mortar attacks on the Maher gas field due south, setting fire to oil wells there before capturing the northern half of Maher, a citizen journalist in eastern Homs monitoring developments on the ground told Syria Direct on Monday.

“IS captured four oil wells, constituting the entire northern portion of the field, while the regime’s forces withdrew to the southern portion of the field,” Nasser a-Thaer, a member of the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) in Palmyra told Syria Direct.

The immense natural gas fields in eastern Homs province, made up of at least 10 independent locations, provide gas to the regime-controlled Tishreen power plant, which in turn covers the electricity needs of Damascus. In 2014, the Shaer gas fields alone produced 3 million cubic meters (106 million cubic feet) of raw natural gas per day, pro-regime Al-Hadath news reported at the time.

Since the summer of 2014, when IS first entered the eastern Syrian desert armed with weaponry captured from the Iraqi army at Mosul, the east Homs fields have changed hands at least a half-dozen times.

In last week’s operation at Shaer, IS forces allegedly captured large caches of regime weaponry, including 20 Soviet-manufactured tanks, more than a dozen .23-caliber mortars and heavy artillery, IS-affiliated Amaq reported. Syria Direct could not independently confirm the contents of the weapons caches captured at Shaer.

Even as Syrian and Russian bombers strike IS positions in the Shaer and Maher gas fields, residents of eastern Homs tell Syria Direct that IS’s recent advances demonstrate resilience after losses at Palmyra and al-Qarayatayn.

“The war with IS isn’t over here,” Abdullah Abdelkarim, a resident of a village near the Shaer field, told Syria Direct on Monday.

“They are still capable of threatening the regime.”