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Syria: Allies to storm Isis stronghold in civilian rescue

20 February 2019

Islamic State militants are preventing more than 1,000 civilians from leaving a tiny area still held by the extremist group in a village in eastern Syria, a spokesman for the USA -backed Syrian militia fighting the group said Sunday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of resistance militia, has warned Islamic State's switch to guerrilla warfare highlights the threat the jihadi terrorists will pose even when they are finally defeated.

As in other places they have defended in the Middle East, the jihadists in Baghouz have sheltered among civilians to escape the worst of intense USA -led air strikes that razed much of their former strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa. "Many of them are apparently being actively prevented from leaving by ISIL", it said in a statement, using another acronym for IS.

Some 300 militants are mixed in with hundreds of civilians and are refusing to surrender while trying to negotiate an exit with the USA -backed forces surrounding them.

In that tiny patch on the banks of the Euphrates River, the fighters are holed up in what SDF officials described as a small tented village, atop a network of tunnels and caves with the civilians - some of them possibly hostages.

The DeirEzzor 24, an activist collective in eastern Syria, said several trucks loaded with foodstuff entered IS-held areas in Baghouz in Deir el-Zour on Monday morning. Devastated buildings and the twisted skeletons of cars dotted the side of the road.

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But sporadic regime shelling has also lately targeted a northwestern region of Idlib held by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, despite the area being protected from a massive regime offensive by a September ceasefire deal.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, also reported that some 50 trucks belonging to the USA -led coalition fighting IS arrived at the outskirts of the area. They are being held in makeshift camps run by the Kurdish armed groups, including SDF, who are reported to be preventing IDPs from leaving the camps, she said. The militants have also asked for the civilians that are in the town to be allowed to leave with them. "They shouldn't be held in detention unless they are suspected of committing a particular crime", Colville said.

Thousands of people - mostly women and children related to IS members - have streamed out of IS turf in recent weeks.

Near the border with Jordan, in the country's south, the Syrian government opened Tuesday two humanitarian passages with the assistance of Russian troops for people in a tent settlement who want to move to other parts of the country, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Last week, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered badly needed humanitarian assistance to Rukban as Russian Federation offered to help relocate those willing to move to government-held areas in Syria.

Syria: Allies to storm Isis stronghold in civilian rescue