Over 60 civilians died of starvation and malnutrition fleeing the clashes. Both Daesh and YPG have been accused of abducting or holding civilians hostages in Syria.

Daesh members walk in the last besieged neighbourhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Ezzor province, Syria. February 18, 2019.
Daesh members walk in the last besieged neighbourhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Ezzor province, Syria. February 18, 2019. (Rodi Said / Reuters)

Approximately 300 Daesh members, mixed in with hundreds of civilians, are holding ground in a small stretch along the Euphrates river in eastern Syria. The terror group is believed to be holding civilians hostage as it tries to negotiate an exit.

Daesh has been cornered by the US-backed YPG/PYD-dominated SDF militia in a battle for the terror group’s last territory in Syria.

The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU. In its 30-year terror campaign against the Turkish state more than 40,000 people, including women and children, have been killed.

Some 200 families are trapped in the area held by Daesh, whose fighters are stopping some from fleeing, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday.

"Many of them (also) ...continue to be subjected to intensified air and ground-based strikes by the US-led coalition forces and their SDF allies on the ground," Bachelet said in a statement.

The forces attacking Daesh 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 on Tuesday.

Backed by the US, the YPG/PYD led-SDF the end is in sight as the group is running out of rations. 

"They try a psychological war. But that is it! The war is over, and we won," said one member of the militia.

The tense stand-off by the village of Baghouz in Deir Ezzor is considered to be the endgame for Daesh, which since 2014 controlled a vast stretch of territory across Syria and Iraq — at one point nearly from Aleppo to Baghdad — and ruled for years, aspiring to create an enduring and expanding so-called "caliphate". 

The 300 militants in the pocket may include high-level figures and are believed to hold hostages.

Quid pro quo

Activists said a truce in place has been extended for five days as of Sunday. A person familiar with ongoing deliberations said Daesh has asked for an exit through a corridor to the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib and demand to be allowed to leave along with the civilians. 

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about the talks, which he described as taking place indirectly.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that monitors the civil war in Syria, said another request by Daesh to be evacuated to neighbouring Iraq was also rejected. 

Daesh released 10 fighters from the US-backed militias it had been holding on Sunday, but it was not clear what, if anything, the terror group would get in return, the Observatory said. 

Since Wednesday, no civilians came out of the pocket. The YPG-led SDF denies any negotiations are taking place.

The militia appears to be aiming to wait Daesh out. "They don't have supplies in the area they are in that would last for a week or more," said one SDF member.

But DeirEzzor 24, an activist collective in eastern Syria, said several trucks loaded with food entered the Daesh-held areas Sunday. 

It also reported the release of the YPG-led militia's fighters, without saying whether there was a quid pro quo.

Starved civilians

At least 62 people have died in recent weeks, mainly from exhaustion and malnutrition, after making their way out of Daesh-held territory, the International Rescue Committee said. Spokesman Paul Donohoe said two-thirds were children under the age of one. 

He said they either died along the way or soon after arriving at a camp for the displaced.

Over 30,000 people who left the last Daesh-held areas have arrived at the al Hol camp in Syria's northern Hassakeh province in the last few weeks, raising the overall population of the camp to almost 42,000.

The US-led coalition with local ground support has been fighting Daesh in the surrounding region since September. 

Forced disappearances

The YPG/PKK has also been accused of taking civilians, in northwestern Syria.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), the YPG forcibly detained or abducted 107 people, including four women and six children, from Raqqa and Hasakah provinces, since the start of 2019. Most of the people were taken from opposition-held areas and from regions the YPG recently took over from Daesh, the SNHR said in a four-page report.

The YPG also forcibly recruited four child soldiers in December, all under the age of 17.

The international community, meanwhile, has continued to warn of rights abuses being committed by the YPG/PKK, which currently occupies an estimated 28 percent of Syria’s overall territory.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies