US-backed forces were locked in fierce fighting as they pressed the battle against the last shred of ISIS’s “caliphate” in eastern Syria on Sunday, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by a US-led coalition, announced a final push to retake the extremist pocket near the Iraqi border late Saturday, after a pause of more than a week to allow civilians to flee.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy clashes between both sides on Sunday morning, as coalition planes and artillery bombarded extremist 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 war monitor.
The SDF launched an offensive to expel ISIS from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor in September.
The Kurdish-led alliance has since whittled down extremist-held territory to a patch of just four square kilometers on the eastern banks of the Euphrates.
Up to 600 fighters could still remain inside, most of them foreigners, according to SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.
Since fighting intensified in December, more than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of extremist fighters, have fled out into SDF-held desert areas, the Observatory says.
That figure includes some 3,200 suspected extremists detained by the SDF, according to the monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.