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State TV broadcasts in Syria's east for 1st time in years

Deir el-Zour, Syria
Deir el-Zour, Syria

Syrian state terrestrial TV station resumed broadcasting to the eastern city of Deir el-Zour and surrounding areas for the first time in seven years, pro-state TV reported Sunday, the latest in government efforts to restore normal life to areas it has recaptured from armed groups.

Al-Ikhbariya said technicians have installed two transmitters to broadcast state television station and Voice of Youth radio, covering the city of Deir el-Zour and surrounding areas. Government forces, aided by Russian air craft and allied militia, chased IS fighters out of the city and most of the western banks of the Euphrates river last year.

In a separate offensive that occasionally raised tensions, rival U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces fought the militants on the eastern banks of the river and along the border with Iraq. The Kurdish-led forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air power, continue to battle IS militants in Hajin, a small pocket east of the river.

Omar Abou Leila, a Deir el-Zour native residing in Europe, said the TV broadcast was restored to government-controlled areas west of the Euphrates, but not to SDF-controlled areas east of the river.

On Saturday, IS militants stormed a settlement for displaced people in Hajin and abducted scores of civilians.

The U.S-led coalition said it couldn't confirm news of the kidnapping. It said it has been dropping leaflets requesting civilians leave the area for months ``to avoid the brutal tactics'' of the extremist group.

IS ``has used innocent civilians as human shields in the past and leaflets often give them instructions for the quickest and safest exits, but we fully understand many have no other places to go,'' said Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition.

Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had said 130 families were kidnapped in the attack that came amid intense fighting between IS and the U.S.-backed SDF. The attack also came amid a desert storm and low visibility. The SDF reported civilians were kidnapped but didn't elaborate.

Abou Leila, who runs the Deir el-Zour 24 news network, said the militants kidnapped civilians during their attack on the Hajin camp, as well as SDF fighters.

``It is the last battle for the militants. They are besieged,'' Abou Leila said.

Ryan, of the coalition, said he could not confirm whether SDF fighters were kidnapped.

Images appeared on social media of the militants holding at least a couple of men wearing uniforms. In the posting, the militants boasted it has taken Kurdish fighters captive.

Deir el-Zour, Syria's oil-rich province, has been scene to fighting between government forces and insurgents since the start of the war in 2011. The militants seized control of most of it in 2014. But IS has lost most of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq over the last two years. The militants are now besieged in the small pocket in Syria.

The SDF launched an offensive to regain control of the IS-held pockets of territory last month.