Syria rebels slow down battle against ISIL to protect civilians

Minnie Murray
March 8, 2019

The fight to clear the scattered tents and buildings that demarcate the last vestiges of the Islamic State (IS), and its self-proclaimed "caliphate", has wound on for weeks in Baghouz-a small village on the banks of the Euphrates River, close to the Syrian-Iraqi border. SDF and coalition officials said IS used a combination of auto bombs, suicide bombers and human shields to hold the advancing forces at bay.

Dilbar Ali Ravu, 10, is kissed by his aunt Dalal Ravu after Yazidi children were reunited with their families in Iraq after five years of captivity with the Islamic State group, Saturday, March 2, 2019.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Mustafa Bali said that their forces were slowing down their assault on the last ISIS foothold due to the use of the human shields. But the official said he did not know how many more fighters or civilians were still hiding in tunnels underneath the village.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, around 50,000 people have quit the last IS pocket, in the Euphrates Valley, since December 2018. They left through a humanitarian corridor established by the Kurdish-led forces for those who want to leave or surrender.

On Monday night, an AFP correspondent near the front line saw black smoke billowing over the besieged pocket after an air strike.

The surge of evacuees poses a challenge to the Kurdish camps, which are already under strain.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford met with his Russian counterpart Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov in Vienna on Tuesday, according to the Pentagon.

He said several thousand mainly women and children arrive daily and there is "no end in sight". "We are maybe on the threshold of a new battle", he said.

This latest move comes as fighting continues to take place between SDF forces, flanked by fighter jets from the US-led coalition, and IS militants in eastern Syria.

At its peak more than four years ago, the IS proto-state was the size of the United Kingdom and ruled millions of people.

It minted its own currency, levied taxes, published a wide array of propaganda material and designed its own school curricula.

The outpouring of people on Monday follows a standoff between US-backed forces and the remaining ISIS fighters over the weekend, with a torrent of airstrikes and artillery attacks.

Several hundred USA troops will remain in Syria, according to recent reports, though they will be not as engaged in military operations.

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