IS defends dying 'caliphate' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 19, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, February 19, 2019

IS defends dying 'caliphate'

Hundreds of Syrian civilians trapped as jihadists fight in last bastion; Britain rejects Trump's repatriation call

Jihadists defending their last dreg of territory in Syria have no choice but to surrender, a Kurdish-led force said yesterday, ahead of a victory declaration expected within days.

The warning by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) comes as EU foreign ministers were scheduled to meet yesterday to discuss the repatriation of European nationals in Syria, which Germany said would be "extremely difficult" to do.

Diehard Islamic State group fighters are now trapped in their last patch of territory of less than half a square kilometre in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

The SDF are moving cautiously on the jihadist holdout, saying IS is increasingly using civilians as "human shields" to block the advance.

"The clashes are sporadic and very limited," SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali told AFP yesterday.

"So far there have been no significant changes on the ground," he said, adding that coalition warplanes have reduced air strikes on IS positions over the past two days.

The SDF "are still working on trying to get civilians out", the spokesman said.

Thousands of people have streamed out of the so-called "Baghouz pocket" in recent weeks, but no civilians have made it out in the last three days.

An informed source told AFP that holdout IS fighters are seeking safe passage to the jihadist-held city of Idlib in northwestern Syria.

"They want to take the remaining civilians with them as human shields. But the SDF are not willing to discuss this option," said the source who asked not to be named.

The group declared a "caliphate" across large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, which at its height spanned an area the size of United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, British government yesterday rebuffed US President Donald Trump's call to take back alleged UK jihadists captured in Syria and try them at home.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that Washington was "asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial".

Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said the fighters should be put on trial in places where they committed their crimes.

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