News World Operation to end last IS Syria pocket hits evacuation snag

Operation to end last IS Syria pocket hits evacuation snag

The operation to destroy Islamic State’s final vestige of rule in Iraq and Syria hit a temporary snag on Thursday, as an expected evacuation of the remaining civilians from its last enclave in eastern Syria did not go ahead.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has steadily driven the jihadists down the Euphrates, has surrounded them at Baghouz near the Iraqi border, but does not want to mount a final attack until all civilians are out.

Iraqi sources said the SDF handed over more then 150 Iraqi and other foreign jihadists to Iraq on Thursday, under a deal involving a total of 502.

The SDF had expected to pull the last civilians from Baghouz on Thursday, but trucks it sent in left empty. “We can’t get into details, but today no civilians came out,” SDF official Mustafa Bali told Reuters.

Baghouz is all that remains for Islamic State in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria after it lost its major cities of Mosul and Raqqa in 2017.

Its capture will nudge the eight-year-old Syrian war towards a new phase, with U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge to withdraw troops leaving a security vacuum that other powers are seeking to fill.

Though the fall of Baghouz marks a milestone in the campaign against IS and the wider conflict in Syria, Islamic State is still seen as a major security threat.

The group has steadily turned to guerrilla warfare and still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River – a part of Syria otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.

Bali told Reuters the SDF would attack Baghouz once the civilian evacuation was complete. He did not say how much more time was needed to finish off the remaining Islamic State militants, or give a new estimate of how many fighters remained.

The SDF has previously estimated several hundred fighters – believed mostly to be foreign jihadists – are still inside.

A Reuters witness saw warplanes in the sky over Baghouz on Thursday though there was no sound of fighting or shelling.

The U.S.-led coalition said on Wednesday “the most hardened” jihadists remain in Baghouz.

More than 2,000 civilians left the enclave on Wednesday, the SDF said. It has said more than 20,000 civilians left Baghouz in the days leading up to the start of the SDF’s final push to capture the enclave this month.

The SDF has not ruled out the possibility that some Islamic State fighters had left Baghouz with the civilians.

SDF and coalition forces are recording the names and questioning everyone who has left in the civilian convoys.

Many of the people who left the enclave in civilian convoys have been Iraqis, some of whom said they had crossed from Iraq into Syria as Iraqi government forces made gains against Islamic State on the other side of the frontier.

FACING THE CONSEQUENCES

Two Iraqi military sources told Reuters the handover of Islamic State fighters on Thursday was the first of several.

“The majority of the fighters are Iraqi,” said a military colonel whose unit is stationed at the Syrian border. “But we have a few foreigners.”

The mayor of Iraqi border town Al-Qaim, Ahmed al-Mahallawi, said some fighters’ families were also transferred.

The U.S.-led coalition directed questions to the SDF.

Islamic State, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself “caliph”, or leader of all Muslims, in 2014, attracted members from all over the world, including many Western states.

A Turkish official said Turkey was doubling down its own security measures to make it harder for foreign fighters still in Syria or Iraq to pass through Turkey, noting that the threat was much greater than the 800 that the SDF says it is holding.

Western countries refusing to repatriate jihadists were not living up to their responsibilities and leaving countries like Turkey to face the consequences, the official added.

Britain has stripped the citizenship of a teenager who went to Syria aged 15 to join Islamic State. But interior minister Sajid Javid said he would not take a decision that would leave anyone stateless, after Bangladesh said it would not accept her.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said a woman born in the United States who joined Islamic State did not qualify for U.S. citizenship and had no legal basis to return to the country.

(Reuters)

Top Stories

288 new cases of COVID-19, one death announced on Tuesday

The Health Ministry announced the death of one person due to COVID-19. This raises the death toll from the virus in Cyprus to 232,...

Health Minister and experts ‘concerned’ about increase in coronavirus cases in Cyprus

Cyprus` Minister of Health Constantinos Ioannou and the members of an advisory scientific team of experts on COVID-19 are "concerned" about a recent spike...

Cyprus unemployment at 7.6% in 2020

Unemployment in Cyprus in 2020 rose to 7.6% of the labour force compared with 7.1% the year before, pushed upwards by the fallout of...

Where to get a rapid test on Wednesday, 3 March

Aiming at the continuous surveillance of the community and the workplaces, the free programmes of rapid antigen testing of the general population and employees...

Health Ministry says students must have negative COVID tests

The Health Ministry issued a decree today regarding the operation of schools. According to the decree, every week the students of gymnasiums and lyceums must...

Taste

Squash soup

Ingredients: 1 kg pumpkin, cut into small cubes, approximately 5 cups 2 medium (400g) sweet potatoes, cut into cubes, approximately 2 ½ cups 1 chopped leek, only...

Mezedes

No visit to Cyprus is complete without enjoying the traditional meal of many small dishes known as ‘meze’. This large feast, which has been a...

Prawns with fried cheese, barley shaped pasta

Put the barley shaped pasta into a small pan with salted water, bring to a boil and when tender, drain. Peal the prawns leaving...

Salmon and shrimp sheftalies

Mix all ingredients for tabbouli in a bowl and keep to one side so flavours can combine. Prepare the sheftalies: wash and soak the casing...