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Daesh frees hundreds of ‘human shields’ in Syria

By AFP - Aug 13,2016 - Last updated at Aug 13,2016

A woman reacts as she sits with a child after they were evacuated with others by the Syrian Democratic Forces fighters from a Daesh-controlled neighbourhood of Manbij in Aleppo governorate, Syria, on Friday (Reuters photo)

BEIRUT — Daesh militants have released hundreds of civilians they used as human shields while fleeing a crumbling stronghold in northern Syria, but the fate of others remained unknown Saturday.

The last remaining Daesh militants abandoned Manbij near the Turkish border on Friday after a rout that the Pentagon said showed the extremists were "on the ropes".

The retreat from the city which Daesh captured in 2014 was the extremists worst defeat yet at the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurdish alliance backed by US air power.

Fleeing fighters took around 2,000 civilians, including women and children, on Friday to ward off air strikes as they headed to the Daesh-held frontier town of Jarabulus, according to the SDF.

At least some of the civilians were later released or escaped, the alliance said on Saturday, but the whereabouts of the rest was unknown.

“There are no more IS [Daesh] fighters left in Manbij,” an SDF member said.

Kurdish television showed footage of jubilant civilians in Manbij, including smiling mothers who had shed their veils and women embracing Kurdish fighters.

 

Booby-trapped houses 

 

One woman burned a black robe that the extremists had forced residents to wear, while men who had lived for weeks under a shaving ban cut their beards.

“The battle was very hard,” a Kurdish source told AFP, adding that the extremists had laid mines in the city.

“One SDF fighter entered a house on Friday and saw a shoe placed on a Koran. When he removed it there was an explosion and he was killed,” the source said.

One resident told AFP that there was not a single house inside his neighbourhood that had not been booby-trapped.

“We ask the people in charge... to do something” to remove the mines, Jamal Abul Ababiyya said, adding that people were being wounded by the mines on a daily basis.

Britain-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that several hundred of the civilians taken from Manbij were no longer being held by Daesh.

“Among the civilians taken by IS [Daesh] there were people used as human shields but also many who chose voluntarily to leave the town due to fear of reprisals” by the SDF, observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The SDF began an assault in May on Manbij, on a key terrorist supply route between the Turkish border and Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.

The terrorists, who have suffered a string of losses in Syria and Iraq, have often staged mass abductions when they come under pressure to relinquish territory they hold.

Daesh has also booby-trapped cars and carried out suicide bombings to slow advances by its opponents.

Hundreds killed 

 

SDF forces captured Manbij on August 6 but continued to battle pockets of extremist resistance there.

According to the observatory, 437 civilians, including more than 100 children, were killed in the battle for Manbij and surrounding territory.

Around 300 SDF fighters died, along with more than 1,000 terrorists, it said.

Pentagon deputy press secretary Gordon Trowbridge said on Friday that Daesh “is clearly on the ropes”.

“It has lost the centre of Manbij, it has lost control of Manbij,” he said.

Since the battle for Manbij began, US-led strikes have destroyed more than 50 Daesh heavy weapons and more than 600 fortified fighting positions, Trowbridge said.

But the job of clearing the city will be difficult after the terrorist left behind hundreds of mines and booby traps, he added.

Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 and has since killed more than 290,000 people and drawn in world powers on all sides of the war.

On Friday, Russian and Syrian jets pounded rebel positions in and around second city Aleppo despite a pledge by Moscow to observe a three-hour daily ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid deliveries.

 

Rebels and government forces also clashed Saturday in the city, where more than 200 civilians have been killed since a rebel offensive began on July 31, the observatory said.

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