For much of the latter half of 2017, the eastern province of Deir ez-Zour was a focal point of the clashes across Syria. Once under almost complete ISIS control, the province saw heavy fighting as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched operations to clear the militants. Located north of the city of Mayadin and along the northern banks of the Euphrates, Baseera (also known as Busayrah) was at the heart of the conflict.
The town witnessed heavy shelling by both the SAA and the SDF while it was under ISIS control, forcing much of its population to seek safety in other areas. Although the SDF took the town in November 2017, ISIS militants continued to occupy the territory around the town.
ISIS was not the only source of concern for the people of Baseera. The town is located along the SAA-SDF frontlines. While the two sides are not in open conflict, skirmishes do take place between them. In December 2017, the SAA shelled the town amidst rising tensions between the two factions.
Despite these concerns, security in Baseera has generally improved. The SDF has cleared the countryside surrounding the town from ISIS while the SAA has not shelled the region since December, allowing many of the townspeople to return. Streets are busy, markets are opening and the locals say that life on the whole has returned to the town. Even children, prone to suffering from nightmares due to the constant threat hanging above them, seem to be recovering well.
A number of issues remain. In particular, residents are concerned of water availability and management. Much of the water distribution network has been damaged or destroyed due to the conflict, resulting the few communal facilities that still have access to water, such as mosques, to be overwhelmed.
Although, the people of Baseera have found it safe enough to return, many other Syrians across Deir ez-Zour remain displaced. With camps remaining overstretched and under-supplied, these people have been forced to improvise to shelter themselves from the province’s harsh winter winds.