Raqqa evacuation included some foreign fighters, local official says
Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council, did not say how many fighters remained in the city, once the de facto capital of ISIL’s self-proclaimed caliphate
Some foreign ISIL fighters, but not all, have left the Syrian city of Raqqa on Sunday as part of a withdrawal deal with US-backed forces, reported Reuters.
Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council, did not say how many fighters remained in the city, once the de facto capital of ISIL’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces — an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias — have hemmed the militants into a small enclave.
An SDF spokesman said earlier that ISIL fighters evacuated Raqqa overnight, taking with them civilians as human shields.
Mostafa Bali said that the SDF is still fighting ISIL jihadists who remain in the city.
"The operations has finished and the battle continues," he said. "Last night, the final batch of fighters [who agreed to leave] left the city."
Officials have given conflicting accounts on whether the withdrawal agreement included foreign fighters.
SDF spokesman Talal Silo had said the foreign fighters would be left behind "to surrender or die".
But Mr Alloush said the evacuation would include foreign fighters. He said it would take place overnight into Sunday.
The jihadists would be taking some 400 civilians with them as human shields, he added.
The final defeat of ISIL at Raqqa would be a milestone in efforts to roll back the theocratic "caliphate" the group declared in 2014 in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year it was driven from the city of Mosul.
The Kurdish YPG militia, which dominates the SDF, told Reuters earlier on Saturday that ISIL was on the verge of defeat in Raqqa.
The US-led coalition described the arrangement as "a civilian evacuation" and said it would not condone any arrangement that allowed "terrorists to escape Raqqa without facing justice".
Coalition spokesman Col Ryan Dillon said the coalition's stance was that ISIL fighters must surrender unconditionally, adding that difficult fighting was expected in the days ahead.
A coalition statement said the arrangement brokered by the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders on October 12 was "designed to minimise civilian casualties and purportedly excludes foreign Daesh terrorists".
The coalition believed the arrangement would "save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqa with less risk of civilian casualties", it said.
The statement made no mention of the fate of ISIL’s foreign jihadists, but said the remaining fighters in the city were only "a small number besieged in one or more positions in the city, who have no choice but surrender or death".
Mr Alloush earlier told Reuters that the ISIL fighters would go to remaining territory held by the group in Syria.
Updated: October 15, 2017 11:32 AM