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Jihadis and civilians quitting last Islamic State pocket in east Syria, says U.S.-backed force

AFP-JIJI

Several Islamic State group jihadists and dozens of civilians, including foreigners, quit the last IS-held pocket in eastern Syria on Tuesday, U.S.-backed forces said.

IS, which in 2014 declared a cross-border “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq, has been expelled from all the land it held except for a patch of Baghouz village.

Backed by air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces have already retaken most of the village.

SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said a convoy of trucks entered Baghouz on Tuesday to transfer jihadis and their relatives out to SDF-held territory.

“Dozens of civilians and some fighters have handed themselves over to the SDF,” he told reporters at nearby Al-Omar oil field.

The spokesman said foreigners were among leaving but did not specify their nationalities or if they were civilians or fighters.

“This is the first time civilians will make it out in four days,” Afrin said.

Thousands of people — mostly women and children related to IS members — have streamed out of IS turf in recent weeks, but no civilians had emerged this week.

Afrin said some die-hard jihadis were still refusing to surrender and “many civilians remain” in the last IS pocket of less than half a square kilometer.

The United Nations earlier expressed concern over “the situation of some 200 families, including many women and children, who are reportedly trapped” in the IS holdout.

“Many of them are apparently being actively prevented from leaving by ISIL,” it said in a statement, using another acronym for IS.

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