‘Heavy clashes’ as US-backed forces make final push against IS
HASAKEH, Feb 10: US-backed forces were locked in fierce fighting on Sunday as they pressed the battle against the last shred of the Islamic State group's "caliphate" in eastern Syria.
The jihadists overran large parts of the country and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but various military offensives have since reduced that territory to a patch on the Iraqi border.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by a US-led coalition, announced a final push to retake the jihadist pocket late Saturday, after a pause of more than a week to allow civilians to flee.
An SDF field commander said fighting was ongoing on Sunday morning.
"There are heavy clashes at the moment. We have launched an assault and the fighters are advancing," he told AFP.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor group said coalition planes and artillery bombarded jihadist positions.
"The battle is ongoing. There were heavy clashes this morning, with landmines going off," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Observatory.
The SDF launched an offensive to expel IS from the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor in September.
The Kurdish-led alliance has since whittled down jihadist-held territory to a scrap of just four square kilometres (one square mile) on the eastern banks of the Euphrates.
Up to 600 jihadists could still remain inside, most of them foreigners, according to SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.
- Crumbling 'caliphate' -
Since fighting intensified in December, more than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of jihadist fighters, have fled out into SDF-held desert areas, the Observatory says.
That figure includes some 3,400 suspected jihadists detained by the SDF, according to the monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information. -AFP