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Families Trapped as ISIS Steps Up Guerrilla Attacks in Syria

Families Trapped as ISIS Steps Up Guerrilla Attacks in Syria

Tuesday, 19 February, 2019 - 11:15
Disguised women reportedly associated with ISIS are under surveillance on Sunday by a female fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria. | Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
Some 200 families are trapped in a shrinking area of Syria still controlled by the ISIS terrorist group, whose forces are stopping some from fleeing, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday.

"Many of them (also) ...continue to be subjected to intensified air and ground-based strikes by the US-led Coalition forces and their SDF allies on the ground," Bachelet said in a statement.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces attacking ISIS have an obligation under international law to take all precautions to protect civilians who are mixed in with the foreign fighters, her spokesman Rupert Colville told a briefing.

The SDF said n Tuesday that ISIS has stepped up guerrilla attacks against its fighters in eastern Syria, pointing to the threat the militants will pose even after they lose their last enclave there.

The US-backed SDF is on the brink of defeating ISIS in its last pocket in eastern Syria, the village of Baghouz, where it estimates a few hundred ISIS militants and about 2,000 civilians are under siege.

ISIS militants have intensified attacks away from the last frontline in recent days, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said.

ISIS launched two of the attacks three days ago in the village of Dhiban, 90 km (56 miles) north of Baghouz.

In the first attack, an ambush, two SDF fighters and a militant were killed. In the second, carried out that evening by a group of foreign militants, the SDF killed three militants and captured two, Bali said.

“Sleeper cells are on the move on a daily basis,” Bali said.

“The organization (ISIS) is working on security operations in an intensive way ... It is still strong, ending its military presence does not at all mean the elimination of Daesh (ISIS),” he said.

ISIS redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared a caliphate across large areas of Syria and Iraq. But the group steadily lost ground and its two main prizes - the Syrian city of Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul - fell in 2017.

Spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, the SDF has been the main US partner in Syria and has driven ISIS out of swathes of the north and east over the last four years.

After capturing Raqqa, the SDF advanced south into Deir al-Zor province, attacking the militants in territory on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

ISIS still has some territory west of the Euphrates in a remote area otherwise controlled by the Syrian regime and its allies.

SDF commander Mazloum Kobani has called for some international forces to remain in Syria to help fight ISIS and expressed hope that the United States would halt plans for a total pullout.

US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal order has been criticized by allies at home and abroad.

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