|Date: Mar 5, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Some 150 Daesh militants surrender|
|DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria: Around 150 Daesh (ISIS) militants surrendered after a ferocious battle over their last shred of territory in eastern Syria, but an unknown number of militants are still holding out, a military source in a U.S.-backed Syrian force said Monday. The militant group faces defeat in Baghouz on the banks of the Euphrates, but it still holds pockets of land in remote areas further west and has launched guerrilla attacks in other areas where it has lost control.|
Baghouz, a collection of hamlets and farmland near the border with Iraq, is the last patch of populated territory Daesh still holds in the area straddling the two countries where it declared a “caliphate” in 2014.
The Syrian Democratic Forces said earlier Monday it had slowed its assault because more civilians, previously thought to have completely evacuated, were trapped in the enclave, but vowed to capture it soon.
A convoy of trucks was seen heading into Baghouz in the morning, and the SDF military source said 150 militants had left along with about 350 civilians.
Dozens of men, women and children climbed hills on foot and were later seen getting into small trucks after they were searched by SDF fighters manning the evacuation corridor. An unknown number of militants remained inside, the source said.
The militants hail from a number of countries including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, said an SDF faction that distributed photographs showing men separated from women and small children.
Daesh has gradually fallen back on Baghouz as its militants retreated down the Euphrates in the face of sustained assault by local and international foes after its grotesque displays of cruelty roused global fury.
The SDF resumed its assault on Baghouz over the weekend, the culmination of a campaign that included the capture of Raqqa in 2017, when Daesh also lost other big cities including Mosul in Iraq.
The militia had already paused its attack for weeks to allow thousands of people to leave the area, including Daesh supporters, fighters, children, local people and some of the group’s captives.
It said Friday that only militants remained, mostly foreigners, but it now says some more civilians are left.
“We’re slowing down the offensive in Baghouz due to a small number of civilians held as human shields by Daesh,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter.
However, “the battle to retake the last ISIS holdout is going to be over soon,” he added.
The SDF faced land mines, car bombs, tunnel ambushes and suicide attacks Sunday as it attempted to overrun the enclave. The militant group has honed those tactics through its hard-fought retreat.
Reuters photographs from Baghouz Sunday showed dark plumes of smoke rising above houses and palm trees, and SDF fighters shooting into Daesh enclave.
In other developments, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said Monday that it was too early to restore diplomatic ties with Syria or reinstate Damascus to the Arab League without progress on a political process to end the 8-year-old war.
Jubeir also said Riyadh, which backed rebels fighting President Bashar Assad, would not take part in any reconstruction efforts before stability was restored in Syria.
“This [reopening the Saudi embassy] is related to progress on the political process, so it is still early,” Jubeir told a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The UAE, a Saudi ally, reopened its embassy in Damascus in December in a diplomatic boost for Assad, in a bid to re-engage and rebuild Arab influence in Syria.