Clashes near Syria prison hit by Islamic State group: Monitor

AFP , Saturday 29 Jan 2022

Clashes broke out Saturday between Kurdish forces and Islamic State group fighters near a Syrian prison where dozens of jihadists are still holed up, a war monitor said.

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces soldiers
US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces soldiers search for Islamic State militants in Hassakeh, Syria, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. AP

An IS assault on the sprawling Gweiran prison complex near the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh on January 20 sparked days of heavy fighting that has left some 260 people dead, and a bulldozer on Saturday shovelled corpses onto a truck to take some for burial.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they had recaptured the prison on Wednesday, but that mop-up operations continued.

On Saturday, there were "clashes in the vicinity of the prison between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurdish security forces on the one hand, and members of IS who are hiding in the area," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The war monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said that four IS fighters took a local official and three civilians, hostage, for hours, holding them in a residential building near the prison.

Kurdish forces later freed the hostages and killed three IS fighters.

An AFP correspondent earlier reported that US troops and Kurdish-led forces surrounded the building and deployed snipers on nearby rooftops, reporting there was intermittent shooting.

The SDF said Wednesday some 3,500 IS members had surrendered, but that holdout IS fighters had barricaded themselves inside the prison facility.

IS in Prison Basement

The IS gunmen are in "cellars that are difficult to target with airstrikes or infiltrate" the Observatory said.

SDF officials estimate that between 60 and 90 IS fighters were still in the basement and the ground floor above it.

Kurdish forces have repeatedly called for IS gunmen to surrender.

"Our forces have not used force with them so far," Farhad Shami, who heads the SDF's media office, said Saturday.

On Saturday, an AFP correspondent saw a truck carrying piles of bodies away from the area near the prison, corpses believed likely to be those of IS fighters.

A bulldozer dumped more bodies inside the truck, which then headed to an unknown location.

Shami said that the bodies would be buried in "remote, dedicated areas" under SDF control.

The Kurdish component of the SDF, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), published a video showing a handful of IS members who surrendered on Friday. An SDF source estimated their number at around 10.

In the video, two men carried away someone on a stretcher.

Kurdish-led forces have banned journalists from freely accessing the Gweiran neighbourhood or approaching the prison since the start of the attack.

The fighting has killed more than 260 people, including around 180 jihadists, 73 Kurdish-led fighters and seven civilians, the Observatory said, adding that the death toll is likely to increase.

The violence forced 45,000 people to flee Hasakeh, the United Nations said. Many took refuge in their relatives' homes, while hundreds others have been sleeping in the city's mosques and wedding halls.

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