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Militants, civilians quit IS holdout in east Syria

Updated February 20, 2019

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OMAR FIELD: Several jihadists and dozens of civilians, including foreigners, quit the last IS-held po­­­cket in eastern Syria on Tuesday, US-backed forces said.

The militant Islamic State group, which in 2014 declared a cross-border “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq, has been expelled from all the land it held except for a patch of Baghouz village.

Backed by air strikes by the US-led coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces have already retaken most of the village.

SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said a convoy of trucks entered Baghouz on Tuesday to transfer jihadists and their relatives out to SDF-held territory.

“Dozens of civilians and some fighters have handed themselves over to the SDF,” he told reporters at nearby Al-Omar oil field.

The spokesman said foreigners were among leaving but did not specify their nationalities or if they were civilians or fighters.

“This is the first time civilians will make it out in four days,” Afrin said.

Thousands of people — mostly women and children related to IS members — have streamed out of IS turf in recent weeks, but no civilians had emerged this week.

Afrin said some diehard jihadists were still refusing to surrender and “many civilians remain” in the last IS pocket of less than half a square kilometre.

The United Nations earlier expressed concern over “the situation of some 200 families, including many women and children, who are reportedly trapped” in the IS holdout. “Many of them are apparently being actively prevented from leaving by ISIL,” it said in a statement, using another acronym for IS.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2019