US-backed forces push Syria offensive against last IS pocket





Sousa (Syria) (AFP) - Syrian fighters backed by artillery fire from a US-led coalition battled a fierce jihadist fightback Monday as they pushed to retake a last morsel of territory from the Islamic State group.

Mushrooming black clouds rose over the embattled jihadist holdout in eastern Syria, as missiles and a warplane streaked through the sky.

More than four years after the extremists declared a "caliphate" across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, several offensives have whittled that proto-state down to a tiny holdout.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of diehard jihadists from that patch on the Iraq border.

"IS launched a counterattack on our forces and we are now responding with rockets, air strikes and direct clashes," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told AFP Monday.

He said there were "dozens of SDF hostages held by IS" inside their last foothold, but denied reports of executions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters had pressed on Monday morning in the face of tough obstacles.

"The SDF are advancing slowly in what remains of the IS pocket" on the edges of the village of Baghouz, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

But landmines, IS snipers, and tunnels the extremists have dug out for their defence are hindering the advance, he said.

Backed by coalition air strikes, the SDF alliance has been battling to oust the jihadists from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor since September.

- Screening for jihadists -

Since December, tens of thousands of people, most women and children related to IS fighters, have fled to SDF territory.

US-backed forces have screened the new arrivals, weeding out potential jihadists for questioning.

On Monday, dozens of coalition and SDF fighters were stationed at a screening point for new arrivals from IS areas.

Coalition forces stood over about 20 men who were crouching on the ground.

Some 600 people were able to reach SDF territory on Sunday after fleeing the fighting, the Observatory said.

Among them, were 20 suspected IS members, including two French women, seven Turks, and three Ukrainians, said the monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria.

The SDF -- which has said it expects the final offensive to be over in days -- announced Sunday that it had taken some 40 positions from the jihadists following direct combat involving light weapons.

The alliance had earlier said that up to 600 jihadists as well as hundreds of civilians could remain inside a patch four square kilometres (one mile square).

Spokesman Bali said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the man who pronounced the cross-border "caliphate" in 2014, was not among them, and likely not in Syria.

At the height of their rule, the jihadists imposed their brutal interpretation of Islamic law on a territory roughly the size of Britain.

But military offensives in both countries, including by the SDF, have since retaken the vast bulk of their territory.

The jihadists however retain a presence in Syria's vast Badia desert, and have claimed a series of deadly attacks in SDF-held areas.

- Planned US withdrawal -

US President Donald Trump in December shocked Washington's allies by announcing a full withdrawal of US troops from Syria as IS had been "beaten".

But the US military warned in a report published this month that IS "could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory" if sustained pressure is not maintained.

In January an IS suicide bomber attacked a US patrol in the northeastern city of Manbij, killing four Americans, five SDF fighters and ten civilians.

The losses were the worst combat losses for the US in war-torn Syria since it launched the coalition to fight IS in 2014.

Trump's decision to withdraw US troops has left Syria's Kurds scrambling for safeguards.

A US departure makes them more vulnerable to a long threatened attack by neighbouring Turkey, who considers Kurdish fighters to be "terrorists", and dashes their dreams of autonomy.

The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria's nearly eight-year civil war, instead building their own semi-autonomous institutions in the northeast of the country.

But the expected US pullout has seen them grappling to mend ties with the Damascus regime, which is against Kurdish self-rule.

Syria's war has killed 360,00 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Assad urges progress on Idlib deal ahead of Syria talks
Assad urges progress on Idlib deal ahead of Syria talks

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday called for progress on a stalled buffer zone deal around jihadist-dominated Idlib region ahead of fresh talks aimed at ending his country's eight-year war. Assad met envoy Alexander Lavrentiev from key ally Russia in Damascus to discuss the negotiations due April 25-26 in Kazakhstan. Iran and Russia are the major supporters of the Syrian regime, and along with rebel backer Turkey have sponsored repeated rounds of talks in the Central Asian nation.

Macron sparks Turkish anger by meeting Syrian Kurds
Macron sparks Turkish anger by meeting Syrian Kurds

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday hosted representatives of the Kurdish-led force that defeated Islamic State (IS) extremists in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Turkey's foreign ministry. Macron assured the Kurdish envoys of French support in their fight against the remaining jihadists, but Ankara accused the French leader of "seeking to confer artificial legitimacy on a faction of terrorist groups". "We condemn the reception by French President Emmanuel Macron of a delegation of so-called 'Syrian Democratic Forces' (SDF)," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in the statement.

In war-torn Syria, an ancestor of Notre-Dame still stands
In war-torn Syria, an ancestor of Notre-Dame still stands

An arched entrance flanked by two towers, elaborate carvings and a broad-aisled nave: a 5th century limestone church in northwestern Syria is the architectural forerunner of France's famed Notre-Dame cathedral. Hemmed by the village of Qalb Lozeh (Arabic for Heart of the Almond), the cathedral which goes by the same name is widely hailed as Syria's finest example of Byzantine-era architecture.

U.N. urges resolving fate of 2,500 foreign children at Syria camp
U.N. urges resolving fate of 2,500 foreign children at Syria camp

GENEVA (Reuters) - A senior United Nations relief official called on governments on Thursday to help resolve the fate of 2,500 foreign children being held among 75,000 people at al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria after fleeing Islamic State's last stronghold. "Children should be treated first and foremost as victims. Any solutions must be decided on the basis of the best interest of the child," Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told a Geneva briefing. ...

Army shelling kills 10 in Syria
Army shelling kills 10 in Syria's Idlib: monitor

Regime shelling killed 10 civilians in Syria's jihadist-controlled Idlib region on Thursday, in the latest violence to threaten a seven-month-old truce, a war monitor said. Rocket fire targeted a village and an adjacent camp for the internally displaced in Idlib's southeastern countryside, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Latin America

facebook
Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.