Led coalition hits mosque in Syria used by Islamic State

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Dozens of relatives of foreign fighters including Iraqis, Turks, and Russians fled Islamic State's last bastion in eastern Syria on Tuesday as the jihadists lost ground to US -backed forces. However, the official said this is making the fighting more hard as the terrorists are working to hold onto their last stronghold.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which holds about a quarter of the country, has mounted an attack to seize the enclave with the help of USA air strikes.

The SDF made "slow and methodical" progress in the battle near the Iraqi border, according to the USA -led coalition backing it.

Coalition jets roared overhead as columns of white smoke rose from the Islamic State-held Baghouz area a short distance from the Iraqi border, a Reuters witness said.

SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said 600 civilians fled the combat zone at night and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said another 350 made it out during the day.

About half of them were Ukrainian or Russian women and their children, while most of the others were Syrian.

A fleet of 15 vehicles carrying USA forces headed along a dirt road towards the frontlines.

Two French women told AFP they paid smugglers to take them out of the battered Daesh-held holdout, but Iraqi militants had prevented other foreigners from leaving.

"A group of 600 civilians escaped from Baghouz at one in the morning and they are being searched now", he said.

Dozens of coalition and SDF fighters were stationed at a screening point for new arrivals from Daesh areas. There are a lot of Turks.

Women and children sit at a back of a bus near Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 11, 2019. She identified herself as Umm Khaled and said she came to Syria five years ago after divorcing her Tatar husband. "There was no food".

"Most of those who got out are foreigners", Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

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She said her husband had moved the family across the border into Syria almost three years ago and she did not leave the enclave earlier because of the shelling.

Coalition spokesperson Sean Ryan said US-backed forces were facing a fierce fightback.

"The progress is slow and methodical as the enemy is fully entrenched and IS fighters continue to conduct counter attacks", he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in December he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, saying the battle against Islamic State there was nearly won.

"After Baghouz, clearing operations will have to take place as well", Ryan said.

The extremist group declared a cross-border "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq in 2014, but various military campaigns have chipped it down to a fragment on the Iraqi border. But the jihadists steadily lost to various offensives and their main prizes - Syria's Raqqa city and Iraq's Mosul - fell in 2017.

The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, advanced southwards into Deir al-Zor province after capturing Raqqa.

This frame grab from video posted online January 18, 2019, by supporters of the Islamic State group, purports to show a gun-mounted IS vehicle firing at members of the USA -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, Syria.

To the west of the Euphrates, in territory otherwise held by the Syrian government and its allies, Islamic State retains a foothold in mountainous terrain.

The top US commander overseeing American forces in the Middle East said on Sunday that the United States is likely just weeks away from starting the withdrawal.

But Islamic State is still widely seen as a threat.

A top USA general said last week IS would be an enduring menace following the US withdrawal, as it retained leaders, fighters, facilitators and resources that would fuel further insurgency.

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