Destruction of bridges cripples trade, isolates civilians in IS-controlled Deir e-Zor province
On March 7, US warplanes destroyed a bridge in Abu Kamal, an Islamic State-controlled city in north Deir ez-Zor province, the US Department of Defense announced earlier this week.
It was the latest in a series of coalition airstrikes that have destroyed over 20 bridges on the Euphrates River in Syrian’s eastern Deir e-Zor province in military campaigns against the Islamic State (IS). A US-led coalition airstrike in late September destroyed the last of the bridges in Deir e-Zor’s provincial capital in order to disrupt Islamic State supply lines and restrict the extremist organization’s movement in the region.
As international coalition and regime airstrikes take aim at the Islamic State’s mobility in their eastern Syrian stronghold, the residents of Deir e-Zor are punished in equal measure as the destruction of bridges has disrupted local business and pushed up food prices.
Deir e-Zor province is a desertous region of Syria with the exception of the fertile lands that hug the banks of the Euphrates River. There are dozens of riverside towns in the IS-controlled province that fall along both banks of the Euphrates. The bridges that once connected them were once a vital part of the province’s local economy, allowing farmers to distribute food and traders to exchange goods across these riverside towns.
Now, traders and residents have resorted to crossing the river and its tributaries using makeshift barges or rubber dinghies.
Muhammad al-Muhadni, a farmer in northern Deir e-Zor town of al-Basira, sells his produce to the markets in nearby al-Mayadeen. Before the bridge near al-Mayadeen was destroyed in late September, the trip from al-Basira took 40 minutes. Now, it takes al-Muhadni three hours in order to transport his good to the local market.
The additional time and cost of exporting goods out of the impromptu docks that have sprung up along the Euphrates has pushed local traders to raise their prices. Whereas a kilo of potatoes was SP100 before the destruction of the bridges, Muhadni tells the Syrian Voice, they now cost SP250. The price of tomatoes, cucumbers and other staple foods for the residents of Deir e-Zor province have also spiked in recent months, as transportation across the Euphrates has become more challenging.
Deir e-Zor province is largely controlled by the Islamic State. Regime forces still hold two residential neighborhoods and an air base in Deir e-Zor city, and have been besieged by IS forces since July 2014. The province falls to the east of Raqqa province, the location of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital. On Tuesday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces cut the Raqqa-Deir e-Zor highway as part of their military campaign against IS, dubbed “Euphrates Wrath.”