Islamic State Jihadists defend last territory in Syria

As Islamic State’s caliphate withers the fate of its foreign-born members looms over European nations

As Islamic State’s caliphate withers the fate of its foreign-born members looms over European nations

IS imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometre near the Iraqi border.

As in other places they have defended in the Middle East, the jihadists in Baghouz have sheltered among civilians to escape the worst of intense USA -led air strikes that razed much of their former strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa.

The SDF are on the brink of defeating IS in Baghouz, where it estimates a few hundred Islamic State fighters and about 2,000 civilians are under siege.

The SDF, which has taken the quarter of Syria's territory east of the Euphrates from Islamic State since 2015, has said isolating civilians there from the remaining jihadists is vital.

"We are working on secluding and evacuating civilians and then we will attack". A Reuters witness in a location near Baghouz saw dozens of trucks moving along a road toward the village.

Dino, a 26-year old fighter who has battled jihadists for years, said on Monday he was glad the battle was drawing to an end.

A small hamlet of buildings in Baghouz is all that is left of the proto-state, which at its height spanned an area the size of the United Kingdom.

"It's been two days since anyone came out", an SDF fighter told AFP.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the SDF have turned down the request.

SDF officials, however, deny any negotiations with IS fighters.

Thousands of people have streamed out of the so-called "Baghuz pocket" in recent weeks, but hundreds of civilians - including ISIS family members - are believed to still be inside.

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In past weeks, jihadists among the new arrivals have been detained, while civilians have been ferried on trucks to Kurdish-held camps for the displaced to the north.

"They are besieged in a very tight area and they have no other choice but to surrender", said the SDF commander, who asked not to be named.

Civilians who have been able to escape reported that IS militants were using women and children "as human shields", said Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them.

Germany, too, was cool towards Trump's demands, saying it could only take back Islamic State fighters if the suspects had consular access.

Though IS fighters still hold out in a pocket of central Syria's remote desert, and have gone underground as sleeper cells in Iraqi cities, able to launch new attacks, their territorial rule is, for now, nearly over.

In Syria, it retains a presence in the vast Badia desert, and the terrorists have claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

While heralding what he said was the imminent defeat of Islamic State in Syria, Donald Trump has called on Europe to take back more than 800 foreign fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial.

The withdrawal plan is expected to be accelerated once IS is defeated.

Syria's Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.

Eight years into the conflict that has killed more than 360,000 people, President Bashar al-Assad's government controls almost two-thirds of the country.

But sporadic regime shelling has also targeted a northwestern region of Idlib held by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, despite the area being protected by a massive regime offensive by a September ceasefire deal.

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