Offensive on IS Syria enclave on-hold until civilian withdrawal

Offensive on IS Syria enclave on-hold until civilian withdrawal
2 min read
09 February, 2019
The last IS territories in Syria have been packed with thousands of civilians.
Civilians are beginning to leave the IS hold-out [Getty]
US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces will renew their offensive on the last pocket of territory controlled by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria once civilian are evacuated from the area.

IS control a few hamlets and villages along the River Euphrates with hundreds of die-hard fighters holed up in the Hajin pocket.

Also trapped are thousands of civilians - mostly family members of IS - where daily shelling and severe food shortages have led to extreme hardships.

The SDF said they have opened humanitarian corridors out of the area, to allow civilians to flee the last IS stronghold.

"There is of course a safe corridor and civilians are coming out daily, and this reduces their number in Baghouz until we can be sure the town is free of civilians," Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office told Reuters.
Once the evacuation of civilians has been completed, then the SDF will begin a final offensive on the hold-out.

"We will launch an attack to end the Daesh (IS) presence or they will turn themselves in. There are no other options for them. We confirm there are no negotiations and no intention to have negotiations."

This follows reports that IS are holding high-profile western hostages, such as British journalist John Cantlie and popular long-term Syria resident Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, as bargaining chips.

Father Paolo is believed to have been murdered by jihadi militants in 2013, but a report from Syrian Observatory for Human Rights this week claimed he was being held in the Hajin pocket.

IS controlled much of eastern Syria and northern, western Iraq from 2014 until their near defeat over the past two years by US-backed forces.

President Donald Trump said this week that he expected IS to be "100 percent" defeated within a week.

There are fears that IS sleeper cells could smuggle themselves among civilians and launch a new insurgency following a planned US withdrawal, due to be completed by April.