Hundreds in Syria's Baghouz 'surrender' amid slowdown in fighting

SDF says 500 people, including ISIL fighters, leave armed group's last enclave as US-backed forces slow down offensive.

    Hundreds of people, including ISIL fighters, have surrendered to advancing Kurdish-led forces in eastern Syria and evacuated the last patch of territory held by the armed group, according to an official.

    Ciyager, an official with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group, said approximately 500 people on Monday left the village of Baghouz, in Deir Az Zor province.

    Some 200 more people were expected to leave the enclave later on Monday, the official told The Associated Press news agency.

    The SDF did not provide an exact figure about how many ISIL fighters had surrendered.

    "SDF-affiliated media and rebel activists are reporting dozens of ISIL fighters are surrendering; some placed the number at 150 and others at 200," Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, also said the group that left Baghouz included 150 ISIL fighters. 

    The evacuation came hours after the SDF announced it was slowing down its push to capture the village to protect civilians who remain there, according to Mostafa Bali, a spokesperson for the group.

    "We are slowing down the offensive in Baghouz due to a small number of civilians held as human shields by Daesh," Bali said on Twitter, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL. 

    "However, we assert that the battle to retake the last ISIS holdout is going to be over soon."

    Al Jazeera's Khodr said it was unclear how many ISIL fighters and civilians remained in Baghouz, which lies on the eastern side of the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border. 

    Thousands of civilians have left the village in the past week, said Khodr, and were taken to the "overcrowded" Al Hol camp, now home to more than 55,000 people. 

    "They emerged weak, tired and hungry. They had dwindling supplies, and aid agencies in the area have been struggling to feed them," she added. 

    Sonia Khush, Syria director for Save the Children, told Al Jazeera that aid agencies were not prepared for the large influx of people that arrived from Baghouz.

    "The needs are immense," Khush said. "We're struggling with having enough tents."

    Smoke and fire billowed from Baghouz on Sunday as Kurdish-led forces backed by US fighter jets rain artillery fire and air raids on ISIL's last holdout [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

    On Sunday, the SDF faced landmines, car bombs, tunnel ambushes and suicide attacks as it resumed its final assault on Baghouz. 

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    The offensive had been held up for weeks to allow thousands of people to flee the area.

    On Friday evening, the SDF said only ISIL fighters remained, but officials on Monday said civilians were still in the area.

    While capturing Baghouz would mark a milestone in the fight against ISIL, the group is expected to remain a security threat as a force with sleeper cells and some pockets of remote territory.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies