A fierce battle is underway in the Badia region in central Syria, pitting the opposition faction Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra (Revolutionary Commando Army) against the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).
The RCA has already liberated vast swaths of the Syrian Badia's al-Hamad desert and is clearing the area of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) ISIL has planted there before its withdrawal, senior military commanders tell Diyaruna.
A video released on March 11th showed a member of the RCA removing ISIL’s flag -- used by the group as a symbol of its alleged state -- from an abandoned tower in al-Hamad desert and hoisting the flag of the Syrian revolution in its place.
In addition to booby-trapping kitchenware and homes, ISIL had also concealed explosives in its flag, a move seen by military commanders and experts as disrespecting the Islamic faith.
The RCA comprises about 400 Syrian fighters who had previously fought ISIL under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and hail from the Syrian Badia, Deir Ezzor, Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, in addition to a number of tribal fighters, RCA commander Lt. Col. Muhannad al-Tallaa told Diyaruna.
The group’s main goal is "to lift the injustice suffered by our civilian population and eradicate terrorism", he said.
The ongoing military operations are concentrated in the al-Hamad region before moving on to liberate cities and towns controlled by ISIL, he said.
"RCA fighters conduct surveillance and reconnaissance operations to identify ISIL targets, after which our troops launch ground assaults with aerial support from the international coalition," he said.
Co-operation with the coalition is conducted through a joint operations room that co-ordinates surveillance, monitoring and reconnaissance operations.
The ongoing operation in the Badia region is "one of the most difficult military undertakings that any armed group" could face, said Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah.
The desert's difficult geographical terrain with its vast open areas and harsh natural conditions make it very hard to navigate, he said, noting that it could take long hours to pinpoint precise locations and roads even with modern navigation devices.
ISIL's disrespect for religion
ISIL is leaving many booby traps and land mines behind, al-Tallaa said, adding that this is "the standard modus operandi of the group".
"The group is booby-trapping everything, including its black flag," he said, adding that it has modified the flag and changed its meaning "as it has done with many other Islamic fundamentals".
"This group does not care about flags or religion, and is only interested in eliminating the largest number possible of its opponents, be they civilian or otherwise," al-Tallaa said.
RCA units are clearing liberated areas of mines and booby traps which have "unfortunately claimed the lives of many civilians", he said.
ISIL has used this tactic in more than one area in Syria, journalist al-Abdullah said, adding that a number of civilians and fighters in liberated areas have fallen victim to booby trapped flags, mosques and even Qur'ans.
"[ISIL] first desecrated the Islamic flag when it made it its emblem in violation of the teachings of the Islamic religion, turning the flag of Islam into a flag that around the world symbolises terrorism and murder," he said, noting that the burning of the flag is further proof of the group's disrespect for the religion.
"The booby traps ISIL left behind are evidence of its systematic criminal practices, as these mines are the most likely to injure civilians since they are planted in homes and agricultural areas," said Sheikh Moaz Abdul Karim, a former preacher at al-Omar mosque in Aleppo who now resides in Cairo.
Targeting civilians in the battles is strictly forbidden by Islam, he said.
Abdul Karim lauded the RCA for its accomplishments in the Syrian Badia region and for hoisting the flag of the Syrian revolution in the desert area.
"The situation in Syria really calls for armed factions who do not subscribe to terrorist ideology and act only based on their belief in liberating the land and its people," he said.