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Push to evacuate civilians from last IS-held enclave in Syria

An SDF fighter gives bread to children near Baghouz, 20 February 2019
An SDF fighter gives bread to children near Baghouz, 20 February 2019 Rodi Said/Reuters

The Syrian Democratic Forces are trying to evacuate the last civilians from the village of Baghouz, the last enclave of the Islamic State armed group in Syria. The SDF, backed by the United States, has fighters surrounded, but does not want to start a final attack until all civilians are out.

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The SDF had expected to complete the evacuation of about 3,000 people on Thursday, but will start again on Friday.

Hundreds of people have already escaped from IS-held territory. They are held in a screening area, where the SDF questions them to separate out suspected IS fighters from civilians.

The SDF is holding hundreds of foreigners suspected of being IS fighters along with their related women and children. Others have been killed, like French jihadist Fabien Clain, who voiced an audio recording claiming responsibility for the November 2015 Paris attacks. France has yet to officially confirm his death.

End of the caliphate?

The fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group has turned into guerrilla warfare. It still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River, near the Iraqi border, which is otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.

The SDF are hoping to finish off IS, either through an assault or a surrender deal.

A spokesperson for the US-led coalition said international forces "continue to support the SDF as they negotiate having innocent civilians released" and their captured fighters returned.

US will stay

On Thursday the US said it would leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 in Syria for a period of time, a backtrack on the announcement by President Donald Trump of a complete troop withdrawal.

The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria welcomed the decision, saying it would protect their region and may encourage European countries to keep forces there too.

(with wires)

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