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East Syria death toll soars after massive Daesh attack

More than 200 killed since 500 Daesh militants burst out of area near border with Iraq

By AFP - Nov 26,2018 - Last updated at Nov 26,2018

A Syrian Kurdish woman fighter holds a Kalashnikov assault rifle as she stands while others march past during a demonstration in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli on Sunday, as they mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — US-backed fighters in Syria suffered record fatalities in an assault by the Daesh group, a war monitor said on Monday, as holdout extremists kept up a fierce defence of their last Syrian redoubt.

It said a total of more than 200 people have been killed since around 500 Daesh militants burst out of the fog shrouding the area in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq to launch their deadly assault on Friday.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 92 of the dead were fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led ground units that have spearheaded the US-backed fight against Daesh in Syria.

At least 61 militants and 51 civilians, mostly their relatives, also died in the violence which saw US-led coalition air strikes help the SDF recover positions it had briefly lost.

The extremists used suicide bombers, suicide commandos and sleeper cells in the countryside around their bastion of Hajin to inflict maximum damage, it said.

"It's the largest number of SDF fighters killed [by Daesh] in a single battle since it was founded" in 2015, said observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

The SDF, an alliance of fighters from the main Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units and anti-extremist Arab fighters, rarely releases full casualty figures.


Mounting toll 


Abdel Rahman said the latest deaths brought to 452 the number of SDF fighters killed since the start of their offensive on the Hajin pocket on September 10.

The extremists have been putting up fierce resistance from their remote Euphrates strongholds, the last rump but also the hard core of a once sprawling "caliphate" that straddled Iraq and Syria.

Most of their recent forays and their deadliest attacks have come as a result of weather conditions hampering the coalition’s ability to launch air strikes.

The coalition said in a statement on Saturday that its strikes had been limited due to the weather.

Abdel Rahman said local tribal fighters opposed to Daesh also helped the SDF take back the positions they had lost on Friday.

The observatory, which relies on a vast network of local sources, said the death toll continued to soar on Sunday as many bodies were discovered.

The Daesh propaganda agency Amaq had released a statement Saturday claiming to have killed 60 enemy fighters and captured 30.

According to the observatory, a total of 284 civilians have been killed since the start of the attacks on the Daesh pocket two and half months ago.

Most of them have died in air strikes, the Britain-based group says. The coalition usually only admits to a fraction of the civilian deaths it is believed to have caused.

The SDF is fighting to retake areas which have no Kurdish presence even as Turkish forces attack its own heartland further north.


Daesh heartland 


Resentment over the failure of their US ally to stop Turkish military action has slowed their advance against Daesh, whose eradication is proving long and costly.

“The area is mixed between desert and smaller cities like Hajin which makes it tremendously difficult to isolate and contain [Daesh] fighters,” said Syria analyst Tore Hamming.

He said Daesh units there could not be surrounded as easily as they were during operations last year against more confined areas like the city of Raqqa.

The extremists have more knowledge and local support than the Syrian government or the Kurds, Hamming said.

He said most Daesh militants there were seasoned fighters made even more dangerous by the knowledge they were making a last stand.

“They know that they will either be killed by an air strike or captured and put into prison if not sentenced to death,” said Hamming from the European University Institute.

Kurdish media reported the capture a day before the Daesh attack of the organisation’s second-in-command, but the observatory could not say if there was any link.

An SDF spokesman contacted by AFP declined to comment on the reported capture of a man named as Osama Abu Zeid and described as Daesh supremo Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s deputy.

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