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More IS fighters surrender in Syria

March 16, 2019

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have said 32 jihadis were killed in the latest clashes in eastern Syria. Die-hard IS fighters have resorted to suicide bombings in a last-ditch attempt to avoid total defeat.

A fighter of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) looks on at the remains of an Islamic State (IS) group jihadists' camp near the village of Baghouz in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor,
Image: Getty Images/AFP/G. Cacace

Almost 1,300 "Islamic State" (IS) fighters and their families have surrendered from their last Syrian holdout of Baghouz over the previous past 24 hours, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said on Saturday.

In a statement on its website, the SDF said the mass surrender was prompted by its forces launching fresh attacks against the last remaining jihadis, described as the most-hardened foreign IS militants.

About 32 IS fighters, including at least four senior figures, were killed in battle, a separate statement from the Kurdish-led group said.

Read more: Germany to strip 'Islamic State' fighters' citizenship — report

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SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin later told the Agence France-Presse news agency that further clashes broke out on Friday night and continued into Saturday.

"There have so far been no surrenders (today) and there's no sign they are giving up."

Weeklong onslaught

The SDF launched a final battle last Sunday for the tiny eastern Syrian village, the last remaining sliver of land that IS once called its "caliphate."

Together with coalition warplanes, the SDF has rained fire on IS positions, forcing more than 4,000 fighters and family members into surrender.

But the militant group's most die-hard fighters have launched a wave of suicide attacks to hinder the SDF's advance.

In the latest on Friday, three suicide bombers killed six people leaving Baghouz in simultaneous blasts.

The US-led coalition said the bombers were dressed in women's clothing and had mixed with others surrendering.

"Daesh has proven to demonstrate a reckless disregard for human life and continues to be a global threat," the coalition said on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Read more: 'IS' families leave as militants make last stand in Syria

More displaced arrive at main camp

After leaving Baghouz, some 3,000 people have reached the al-Hol tent settlement in northeastern Syria over the previous two days, the International Rescue Committee said in a statement on Saturday.

The new arrivals consisted of almost all women and children, bringing the population to more than 69,000 at a camp designed for just 20,000 people.

Syria: IS family members

The UN said most of the new arrivals "show clear signs of distress, fatigue, malnutrition."

Other than fighters and their families, those fleeing Baghouz People include other IS supporters, the group's captives and civilians caught up in the conflict.

In 2014, IS took advantage of conflict and turmoil in Syria and Iraq, capturing large swathes of both countries' territory and declaring a worldwide caliphate.

Read more: White House says 200 US troops to stay in Syria

A coalition of dozens of countries have intervened over the ensuing four years to defeat IS, and the militant group's last main territory has been gradually reduced to just Baghouz, which sits close to the Iraq border.

IS does, however, retain a presence in Syria's vast Badia desert and has sleeper cells in the northeast.

mm/aw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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