Hezbollah forms new
Deir Ezzor militia: activists

The Zayn al-Abidin Brigade reportedly consists of 150 fighters.


BEIRUT – Hezbollah reportedly formed a new militia force based in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, according to an activist group.


The local Deir Ezzor Is Being Slaughtered Silently organization reported on June 18 that the Lebanese militant organization had established a new military faction called the Zayn al-Abidin Brigade, named after the fourth Shiite Imam, who survived the Battle of Karbala in 680.


In a subsequent interview, the head of the activist group explained that Hezbollah’s new militia force is based in the city’s Al-Jura neighborhood and is comprised of approximately 150 fighters.


“Hezbollah members began appearing in the city four months ago,” Ahmad Ramadan told Zaman al-Wasl, adding that regime helicopters have been transporting fighters of the newly-formed Zayn al-Abidin Brigade to Deir Ezzor in the past week.


Hezbollah’s alleged military moves in Deir Ezzor comes after a leading Lebanese daily close to the party printed a column on Friday saying that Hezbollah would soon take part in a major regime operation in eastern Syria.


Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin wrote Friday that Iran, Russia and Syria have agreed on a “large action plan” for a “very big battle in the Deir Ezzor” province in which Hezbollah will play a “central role.”


“Perhaps the forces of [Hezbollah] will face a test largely resembling what happened in Qalamoun, Zabadani and Qusayr,” he said, in reference to the lead role Hezbollah took in the 2013-2015 operations to clear rebels from regions along Syria’s border with Lebanon.


Amin, an influential commentator known for his close relations with Hezbollah, noted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has expressed its “strong desire” to support the regime troops holed up in the city of Deir Ezzor, which have been repeatedly attacked by ISIS since the jihadist group swept rebels out of the rest of the province in mid-2014.


“A loss [in Deir Ezzor] means a real massacre of thousands of civilians and soldiers, and the loss of a key area in eastern Syria,” the Al-Akhbar column cautioned.


According to Amin, the plans for a wide-scale Deir Ezzor offensive moved forward after the June 9 meeting of Iran, Russia and Syria’s defense ministers in Tehran.


He wrote that mobilization efforts for the upcoming campaign “have just started,” but clarified that the battle will start in the “not-too-distant future.”


Syrian army troops backed by Hezbollah, Russia and Iran seized Palmyra—an ancient archaeological city approximately 185 kilometers west of Deir Ezzor—from ISIS on March 27.


In the days following the Palmyra victory, the pro-regime forces set their sights eastward on Al-Sukhna, a town on the M20 highway leading to Deir Ezzor, however no major desert drive materialized.


“Linking Palmyra to Deir Ezzor will contribute to [splitting lines between] ISIS’s main areas of in Syria and Iraq, and disperse their forces fighting in the Raqqa and Aleppo provinces,” Amin postulated in his report.


He further claimed that the planned east Syria offensive “will not be part of a deal” reached with the US, which is currently backing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces battling ISIS in northern Syria.


The US has also reportedly supported two smaller Free Syrian Army-factions, the New Syrian Army and Ahmad al-Abdo Martyrs Brigades, conducting small-scale campaigns against ISIS in the vast Syrian semi-desert stretching to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders.


NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated the Arabic-language source material.

Syria's Deir Ezzor. (AFP/Ahmad Aboud)

Hezbollah members began appearing in the city four months ago.