Syria War: Civilians evacuated from last Daesh group enclave

The UN had warned some 200 families were trapped

BAGHUZ (Syria), Feb 22 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Civilians have been evacuated from the last village in Syria still held by the Daesh group.

A convoy on Wednesday carried hundreds of men, women and children from Baghuz, near the Iraqi border.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance have said they are waiting for their removal before launching an offensive against militants “entrenched inside”.

Those removed are being screened then taken to camps, the SDF say.

An estimated 300 fighters are thought to be holed up inside a tiny pocket of land.

There have been conflicting reports on how close the SDF is to ridding the enclave of Daesh.

The US-led coalition fighting Daesh has said the “most hardened” fighters remain within Baghuz.

The SDF has said the group are waiting for confirmation all civilians are out before storming Baghuz.

“Our forces said from the start that they have two options: unconditional surrender or for the battle to continue until its end,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said.

As many as 2,000 people may have left the enclave on Wednesday.

Another SDF spokesman, Adnan Afrin, said that a number of Daesh fighters had been caught infiltrating the evacuations.

“Civilians and fighters from many nationalities have surrendered,” he said, adding “there was a group of fighters hidden among the civilians… but as far as we know, our colleagues have arrested them.”

Some 20,000 are estimated to have fled the area in recent weeks, but in recent days departures had stalled.

On Tuesday, the UN said that some 200 families were apparently being prevented from leaving by Daesh militants.

Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned civilians within the area were trapped, subject to intense aerial bombardment from US-led coalition and allied Syrian forces alike.

“Civilians continue to be used as pawns by the various parties,” Bachelet said, calling for fighters to allow their safe passage.

Shortly after, a convoy of about 50 lorries arrived on its outskirts to help get them out.

On Wednesday at least 15 of those vehicles were reported as leaving by journalists at the scene.

The thousands who have fled in recent weeks have been taken by the SDF to a makeshift camp for displaced people at al-Hol, in Hassakeh province.

Among them are the wives and children of militants and many foreign nationals, including the British teenager Shamima Begum, who was 15 when she ran away from her home to join four years ago.

Begum, who has just given birth to a son, has said she wants to return to the UK. However, the government announced they have stripped her British citizenship – a decision her family have said they will try and contest.

Separately, a US woman who fled from Alabama to join the group has also been told she cannot return.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Hoda Muthana, 24, has no “legal basis” to claim American citizenship or re-enter the country. — NNN-AGENCIES