Friday 22 March 2019

Civilians still trapped inside final Isil enclave

Smoke rises from inside the village of Baghouz, in this photo taken near Baghouz, in Deir Al Zor province, Syria. Photo: REUTERS/Rodi Said
Smoke rises from inside the village of Baghouz, in this photo taken near Baghouz, in Deir Al Zor province, Syria. Photo: REUTERS/Rodi Said

Samuel Osborne in Damascus

Around 200 families are trapped in a tiny pocket of land in Syria still controlled by Isil and are being bombed by US-led coalition forces, the UN has said.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are on the brink of defeating the terror group in its last enclave, which has been reduced to a few dozen tents in a small village in Deir ez-Zor.

The group estimates around 300 Isil militants and about 2,000 civilians are under siege, and Michelle Bachelet, the UN's human rights chief, said militants were stopping some families from fleeing.

Many of the families "continue to be subjected to intensified air and ground-based strikes by the US-led coalition forces and their SDF allies on the ground," Ms Bachelet said.

The SDF attacking Isil have an obligation under international law to take all precautions to protect civilians who are mixed in with the foreign fighters, her spokesman Rupert Colville told a briefing.

"We understand Isil appears to be preventing some of them - if not all of them - from leaving. So that's potentially a war crime on the part of Isil," Mr Colville said.

The militants refuse to surrender and are trying to negotiate an exit as they hide among civilians in an orchard in the village of Baghouz. "Civilians continue to be used as pawns by various parties," Ms Bachelet said. "I call on them to provide safe passage to those who wish to flee, while those who wish to remain must also be protected."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 50 trucks had entered the Isil-held area, apparently to bring out some of those trapped.

More than 60 people have died in recent weeks as they fled what remains of Isil territory, the International Rescue Committee said. Spokesman Paul Donohoe said exhaustion and malnutrition are the principle causes of the deaths. (© The Independent)

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