Forces to resume evacuations after smashing last IS bastion

Omar Oil Field: US-backed forces prepared on Tuesday to pluck more civilians out of the IS group’s last Syrian stronghold, after evacuating almost 3,000 people including hundreds of fighters over the past 48 hours.
The mass outpouring of people from the dying “caliphate” has sparked a major humanitarian emergency, with the United Nations saying hundreds are expected to arrive at Kurdish-run camps for the displaced on Tuesday alone.
The Syrian Democratic Forces and allies from the US-led coalition smashed their way into the last sliver of IS territory in the village of Baghouz at the weekend, unleashing a deluge of airstrikes and artillery attacks on besieged fighters.
But the Kurdish-led force slowed down the offensive on Sunday, motivated by concern for civilians still trapped inside the pocket.
An SDF spokesman said thousands had been evacuated from the crumbling bastion since his force dialled down its advance.
“We managed to evacuate about 3,000 people from (the) ISIS pocket”, Mustefa Bali said on Twitter on Monday night, using another acronym for IS. “A large number of Daesh (IS) men surrendered to our forces among the same group,” he added.
An SDF official said that “hundreds of IS fighters” were among the thousands that “surrendered” to the Kurdish-led force.
The latest evacuees also include relatives of fighters, as well as civilians who had been held by the group as “human shields”, he said.
But civilians still remain inside the enclave, he said. “Evacuations of civilians, fighters and their relatives who want to surrender will likely continue” on Tuesday, said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said 280 IS fighters were among those that quit the redoubt since Sunday.
Diehard fighters are fiercely defending their riverside hamlet after the SDF and the US-led coalition resumed their offensive on Friday night, following a two-week pause to allow for civilian evacuations.
The Kurd-led force pushed into Baghouz on Saturday, breaching the militants’ parameter. On Monday night, an AFP correspondent near the frontline saw black smoke billowing over the besieged pocket after an airstrike hit militant targets. The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said artillery fire and air strikes continued during the night.
The thousands that have poured out of Baghouz have posed a huge humanitarian challenge in Kurdish-run camps for the displaced in northeast Syria.
Around 15,000 people reached the Al Hol camp from Baghouz between February 22 and March 1, the UN humanitarian coordination office OCHA said on Monday.
The new arrivals have pushed the camp’s population to over 56,000, exacerbating already dire conditions at the crammed facility, it said. — AFP