Monday, 22 April, 2019

Clashes Still Raging in Last Islamic State Enclave: SDF Official

A fighter with the Syrian Democratic Forces keeps position at a hilltop as he watches the Islamic State group's last remaining location in the village of Baghouz Thousands believed still inside last IS pocket: Syria force
Jeannette Daniel | 21 March, 2019, 20:40

The spokesman's comments came as his force advanced against the jihadists in eastern Syria, confining holdout fighters to a tiny slither in the village of Baghouz on the banks of the Euphrates River.

"This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh", said Mustafa Bali, a media official with the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Over the past two months, more than 60,000 people have poured out of the dwindling enclave, almost half of whom surrendered as Islamic State supporters, including some 5,000 fighters, according to the SDF.

"Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken [ISIS]?" he asked.

At the height of its brutal rule, IS controlled territory in Syria and Iraq the size of the United Kingdom, with a population of millions.

In the final push to control Baghouz, the SDF blew up an ammunition storage area and slowly pried positions away from ISIS. However, the operation is not yet over, an SDF media official said on Tuesday. The US has also questioned the militants, who were captured in Manbij.

After more than two months of fitful assaults and pauses for civilians to escape and militants to surrender, the SDF estimates there may yet be 5,000 more people in Baghouz.

Since Jan. 9, more than 60,000 people have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Islamic State supporters including some 5,000 fighters, the SDF said on Sunday.

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There were conflicting reports from SDF commanders on the ground about the extent of the IS surrender. Still, he cautioned, "this is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight". He said the last fighters were pushed out of the camp and were now in an open patch of land by the Euphrates River and were being processed and detained.

Mr Bali declined to specify the nationalities of the captured fighters and did not say when the operation took place.

Nineteen people including four American personnel were killed in the January 16 suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

"We fired on them with our rifles and heavy weapons and they didn't shoot back".

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of neighbouring Iraq said images showed Islamic State had built tunnels in Baghouz big enough for vehicles.

As ISIS defended its last scrap of territory against Kurdish-led forces in eastern Syria, a spokesman Monday urged followers to attack them elsewhere in the war-torn country.

Against this scene, a man with a scarf wrapped around his head declaims a message of defiance: "The crusaders have forced us from our homes and burned us, may God exact the same from them".

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