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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

ISIS abducts hundreds of civilians in east Syria

Families were snatched in raid on a displacement camp near Hajin on Friday night

Fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched an operation against ISIS in Deir Ezzor on September 10, 2018. Reuters
Fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched an operation against ISIS in Deir Ezzor on September 10, 2018. Reuters

ISIS militants stormed a settlement for displaced people in eastern Syria and abducted scores of civilians in the latest attack by the extremists on civilians, a US-backed Syrian force and a war monitor said on Saturday.

The area in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province has been witnessing days of intense clashes between ISIS and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces amid bad weather and low visibility.

The SDF said in a statement that the fighting on Friday in the Hajin camp for the displaced left 20 ISIS gunmen and "several" SDF fighters dead. It said ISIS gunmen seized civilians and took them to areas in the last pocket of territory they control in the region.

The SDF launched a major assault on September 10 on the small stretch of the Euphrates Valley around the town of Hajin where they estimate about 3,000 ISIS militants have taken refuge.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria's war, said as many as 130 families were abducted by the extremists on Friday. It warned that ISIS might kill them.

The Observatory said the families are mostly made up of foreign women, including widows of ISIS members who had been killed earlier in the Syrian war.

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Since ISIS lost most of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq over the past two years, the extremists have been resorting to attacks on civilians to show that they are still effective.

The area of Friday's attack is on the edge of the last pocket held by ISIS in Syria. Intense fighting has been ongoing on the area since Wednesday, amid a sandstorm. Not counting the dead in the camp for the displaced, the Observatory said the fighting in the area in the past three days killed 37 SDF fighters and 58 ISIS gunmen. Most of the militants died in coalition air strikes, it added.

"ISIS is pressing its attacks in the Hajin area as the SDF battles to hold them off with the support of the international coalition," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse.

But a prolonged sandstorm has made it difficult for the coalition to carry out air strikes.

ISIS statements on its social media accounts described a number of attacks by "soldiers of the caliphate" against SDF forces in the Hajin area.

The battle for Hajin has claimed the lives of 176 SDF fighters and 325 ISIS militants since its launch last month, according to Observatory figures.

The SDF, backed by the coalition, has driven ISIS from large areas of northern and eastern Syria, including Raqqa, the city that served as the capital of the extremists' so-called caliphate.

Founded in 2015, the SDF is spearheaded by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a powerful Kurdish armed movement.

Hundreds of foreigners have joined the YPG to battle ISIS, which has its own contingent of foreign fighters.