The DAESH terrorist group on Saturday released several hundred civilians from the around 2,000 it took hostage to use as "human shields" a day earlier while retreating from its stronghold of Manbij in northern Syria, US-backed forces and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Arab-Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) expelled most of the DAESH militants from Manbij last week, but dozens continued to put up tough resistance.
On Friday they withdrew from a northern neighbourhood heading for the town of Jarabulus along the border with Turkey, taking the captives with them, as the Pentagon said the retreat showed the group was "on the ropes."
"While withdrawing from a district of Manbij, DAESH jihadists abducted around 2,000 civilians from Al-Sirb neighbourhood," said Sherfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, a key component of the SDF.
"They used these civilians as human shields as they withdrew to Jarabulus, thus preventing us from targeting them," he said, adding that women and children were among those taken.
The 2,000 civilian hostages who had been held by the DAESH militants have been freed, while the SDF continues to sweep the city for the last remaining group of militants, Sharfan Darwish of the SDF allied Manbij Military Council told Reuters.
"The city is now fully under our control but we are undertaking sweeping operations," Darwish said, adding militant sleeper cells in the city were still a threat.
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The SDF, with heavy air support from a US-led coalition, said last week they had taken almost complete control of Manbij, where a small number of DAESH fighters had been holed up.
Tens of thousands of people lived in Manbij before the assault started at the end of May.
The EU denounced the use of civilians as human shields, saying in a statement that "DAESH continues to pose a threat to the people of Syria, Iraq, the region as well as to Europe and beyond."
DAESH has also used civilians as human shields, booby-trapped cars and carried out suicide bombings to slow advances by their opponents.
Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, stated "Among the civilians taken by IS [DAESH] there were people used as human shields but also many who chose voluntarily to leave the town due to fear of reprisals."
The SOHR said around 500 cars had left Manbij carrying DAESH members and civilians. They were heading northeast towards Jarablus, a town under DAESH control on the Turkish border.
The United Nations has said that more than 78,000 people have been displaced since then.
Manbij was a key transit point along DEASH's supply route from the Turkish border to Raqqa, the de facto capital of its self-styled Islamic "caliphate."
The SOHR says the battle for Manbij claimed the lives of at least 437 civilians, including 105 children, as well as those of 299 SDF fighters and 1,019 DAESH terrorists.