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16 civilians killed in strike on Daesh Syria holdout
February 12, 2019
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BEIRUT: US-led coalition air strikes on the last extremist pocket in Syria on Monday killed 16 civilians, including at least seven children, a war monitor said.

Eight women and one elderly man were also among the civilians killed while trying to flee towards the Iraqi border, said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The coalition was not immediately available for comment, but has repeatedly said it does its utmost to avoid targeting civilians.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of militants from their last patch of territory in eastern Syria on the Iraq border.

The SDF estimates that up to 600 Daesh militants could still remain inside, most of them foreigners.

Nineteen Daesh militants were killed in clashes with the SDF on Monday, the monitor said.

The Kurdish-led force lost nine fighters during battles with militants, the Observatory said.

The SDF does not usually divulge casualty figures until weeks or months later.

Two French women who fled the Daesh group’s last pocket in Syria told AFP on Monday more foreigners were trapped inside, barred from leaving by Iraqi militants.

The Muslim converts said they paid smugglers to take them out of the battered Daesh-held holdout of Baghouz to territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

They said “massacres” had taken place in Baghouz, where others are still trapped with “nothing to eat”.

“There are many French, many muhajireen (foreign women who joined Daesh) and others who are trying to leave but they (Daesh) don’t let us,” said one.

“They said only the Syrians and Iraqis can be smuggled out,” said the woman, who said her first name was Christelle, from the city of Bordeaux.

She spoke to AFP from the back of a pickup truck packed with women and wailing children who would be taken to Kurdish-run prison camps in northern Syria.

Her two children, one and three, were laying on her lap, but she said her husband had died.

“What do I ask the French government? Just let me keep my kids. I just want my kids,” she said.

France has said it is considering repatriating around 130 of its nationals currently held by Kurdish authorities in Syria, but Christelle was not keen to go home.

“I would prefer to return to a different country where there is more Islam. We can’t practise our religion (fully) in France,” she said.

Like everyone else in the truck, Christelle kept her black veil on but her skeletal, dirty hands were visible. She wore a cheap-looking silver ring.

She told AFP that she converted to Islam and entered Syria in 2014 “for religion”.

Initially happy under the group, she now felt “tricked”.

“Propaganda. ‘Come to us, look at this beautiful life.’ We were robbed,” she said.

“Of course we regret it. We lost everything by coming here,” adding sourly of Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi: “His family isn’t being massacred in there.” She said she had never seen Baghdadi or senior French militants Jean-Michel and Fabien Clain, all of whom are still at large.

But, she claimed, the group’s Iraqi leadership “left a long time ago”.

A second French woman who escaped and was aboard the same truck said she also hoped to keep her two remaining children with her — but not necessarily in France.

“They don’t let us live our religion (to the full) in France. We have no rights. You cannot wear the niqab,” she said of the full veil.

She kept hers on during the interview, with only her pale blue eyes visible.

Also a Muslim convert, she said she left France in 2012 because of pressure by French authorities to assimilate or leave.

“So we left,” she said frankly.

About 10 other trucks packed with fleeing civilians were parked on a plain outside of Baghouz.

Locals driving the trucks said a total of 18 foreigners were among the dozens of civilians there on Monday, including Russians, Turks, and Ukrainians.

Journalists clamoured over the edges of the trucks to find non-Arabs among the fleeing civilians, shouting “France? France?” Closer to the front, coalition troops were seen standing over about two dozen men who were suspected Daesh militants.


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