Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

Syria’s remaining ISIS diehards have ‘no choice but surrender’

ISIS does not have supplies to last more than a week, says Syrian Democratic Forces commander

ISIS members walk in their final holdout of Baghouz, Syria February 18, 2019. Reuters
ISIS members walk in their final holdout of Baghouz, Syria February 18, 2019. Reuters

ISIS fighters holding out in a tiny patch of territory near the Iraqi border in northern Syria have no choice but to surrender, US-backed Syrian forces said.

In an area of less than half a square kilometre in Deir Ezzor province, about 300 ISIS fighters and up to 2,000 civilians, mostly believed to be ISIS supporters and relatives, are trapped in an encampment.

Around their sliver of land, which is all that is left of a “caliphate” that in 2014 covered an area about the size of Britain, the militants have lined up pickup trucks and dug a dirt berm, AP reported.

They are surrounded by a bend in the Euphrates River and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces across a flat agricultural landscape.

The western desert beyond is a lawless landscape into which some ISIS members have escaped.

Activists say between the militants and the SDF, and their international allies, was extended for five days on Sunday.

Negotiations are continuing, as the SDF demands that the militants surrender.

ISIS has hostages it is using civilians as human shields, making the SDF wary of advancing quickly.

Several trucks loaded with food entered the ISIS-held pocket on Sunday, activists said.

The group also claimed that some SDF fighters were released, without saying whether it was an exchange.

If no food enters, the SDF will be able to wait the militants out.

Baran, an SDF commander, said the extremists' food supplies would not last more than a week.

ISIS supporters are asking for safe passage through the desert to rebel-held Idlib province, about 550 kilometres across Syria to the north-west.

A request by the militants to escape to Iraq has been rejected, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported from Britain.

The militants have little with which to negotiate, the SDF says. "They are besieged in a very tight area and they have no choice but to surrender," a commander told AFP.

Away from Baghouz, ISIS sleeper cells have intensified attacks in recent days, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said.

"Sleeper cells are on the move on a daily basis," Mr Bali said. “ISIS is still strong. Ending its military presence does not at all mean the elimination of Daesh."

Updated: February 20, 2019 01:27 AM