Mon, Feb 11, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Syria force announces final push against Islamic State

AFP, QAMISHLI, Syria

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday said it had begun the “final battle” to oust the Islamic State (IS) group from the last scrap of territory it holds in eastern Syria.

Islamic State overran large parts of the country and neighboring Iraq in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” there, but various military offensives have reduced it to a fragment.

Backed by air strikes of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, the Kurdish-Arab alliance has in recent months cornered the militants in a final pocket of territory in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

After a pause of more than a week to allow civilians to flee, the SDF said it had resumed the fight to seize the last 4km2 patch from the militants.

“The SDF have launched the final battle to crush IS ... in the village of Baghouz,” the SDF said in a statement.

“After 10 days of evacuating more than 20,000 civilians ... the battle was launched tonight” to wipe out the last remnants of the organization, it said.

“The battle has started. This battle will be sealed in the coming days,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said.

There could be up to 600 IS fighters still inside the pocket, most of them foreigners. Hundreds of civilians are also believed to be inside, Bali said. “We have special units whose job it is to direct civilians to corridors they can cross” to safety.”

Near the battlefield, an SDF spokesman at the Omar oil field, which has been turned into a military base, said “progress is slow.”

He said that when the SDF detects movement from Islamic State fighters, they bomb them, but added: “There have not been any major changes.”

More than 37,000 people, have fled Islamic State territory since the SDF intensified its offensive in December last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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