Besieged ISIS militants in eastern Syria refuse to surrender, ask for an exit

Syrian Democratic Forces fighters walk in a building on Saturday, February 16, 2019, as the fight against ISIS continues in the village of Baghouz, Syria. (AP)

More than 300 ISIS militants besieged in a tiny area in eastern Syria are refusing to surrender to US-backed forces and are trying to negotiate an exit, Syrian activists and a person close to the negotiations said Monday.

The militants are bottled up in the village of Baghouz, where they are hiding among hundreds of civilians and preventing them from leaving. The stalling tactics are likely to further delay a declaration of the end of the ISIS extremist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, which the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were hoping to make last week.

A person familiar with the negotiations said the militants are asking for a corridor to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, and demand that they be allowed to leave along with the evacuated civilians. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized 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 ISIS to be evacuated to neighboring Iraq was also rejected. ISIS released 10 SDF fighters it had been holding on Sunday, but it was not clear what, if anything, the extremists would get in return, the Observatory said.

The speck of land in Syria’s remote eastern desert, near the border with Iraq, is all that remains of a self-styled caliphate that once sprawled across a third of both countries and included several major towns and cities.

In that tiny patch on the banks of the Euphrates River, the militants are holed up in what SDF officials describe as a small tented village atop a network of tunnels and caves. There are civilians inside as well, possibly including hostages.

The SDF and the US-led coalition have been fighting ISIS in the surrounding region since September. In recent years, they and other forces have steadily driven ISIS from nearly all the territory it once controlled, in battles that have killed tens of thousands of people and left entire towns and neighborhoods in ruins.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:55 - GMT 06:55