Celebrations have erupted in the Syrian city of Manbij, with civilians pouring on to the streets and rebel fighters claiming they have “liberated” all of the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Scenes of jubilation could be seen in many neighbourhoods of the city over the weekend, with men clipping their beards, women lifting their veils and people smoking in public.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance consisting of Arab and Kurdish fighters, said on Sunday that they were in control of all of Manbij, which had been held by ISIL, also known as ISIS, since 2014.
Nasser Haj Mansour, an adviser to the SDF, said that Manbij was “under full control,” adding that search operations were continuing to try find any remaining ISIL fighters, the Associated press news agency reported.
“We are all happy. We cleared the city from Daesh and now people are returning to their homes,” Abu Musab, a Manbij resident, told Al Jazeera, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
“We will show the world that the tide is changing and we will take back all of our country from Daesh.”
Manbij, which lies on a supply route between the Turkish border and the de facto ISIL capital Raqqa, fell on Friday after more than two months of heavy fighting and US-led air strikes.
Al Jazeera’s Reza Sayah, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said the loss of Manbij “was a major setback for ISIL and a major achievement for all the forces battling the group in Syria”.
One of the key reasons for the success of the ground forces fighting ISIL in Manbij was the US-led coalition’s air support.
In confirming the capture of Manbij, US military officials said that during the operation the coalition launched 680 air strikes destroying more than 680 ISIL fighting positions and 150 ISIL vehicles and heavy weapons.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that records daily developments in Syria, said the fighting in Manbij claimed more than 1,700 lives, including more than 400 civilians.
On Saturday, ISIL released hundreds of the reported 2,000 civilians they took as human shields while retreating from the northern city.
The Syrian Observatory said hundreds of civilians, including women and children were released after about 500 cars left Manbij on Friday and headed northeast towards Jarablus, a town under ISIL control on the Turkish border.
“Among the civilians taken by IS [ISIL] there were people used as human shields but also many who chose voluntarily to leave the town due to fear of reprisals” by the SDF, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the observatory.
Separately, air strikes in opposition areas of Aleppo province on Saturday killed at least 51 people, activists and rescue workers told Al Jazeera.
Air strikes by the Russian and Syrian air force continued despite a pledge by Russia to observe a three-hour daily ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid deliveries.
The battle for Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, has raged on since mid-2012 and is among the fiercest in the multi-front war that has killed nearly 400,000 people, according to an estimate by the UN’s chief mediator.
Last week, there were reports of a chlorine attack in the Aleppo neighbourhood of al-Qatarji, although no one was seriously injured.
On the day that alleged attack was reported, at least 33 people, including 18 women and 10 children, were taken to hospital after a chlorine attack in Saraqeb, a town in Idlib province.
Government and opposition forces have both denied using chemical weapons during the war.
Western powers say the government has been responsible for chlorine and other chemical attacks, and the government and Russia have accused rebels of using poison gas.
In neighbouring Idlib, air strikes targeted a market killing several people.
Activists say that in the past few weeks, air strikes have increased in the area, targeting supply routes of armed groups.