‘Heavy clashes’ as US-backed forces battle ISIS in Syria: Report

BEIRUT US-backed forces were locked in fierce fighting against the last shred of the "caliphate" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in eastern Syria yesterday, a war monitor said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by a US-led coalition, announced a final push to retake the militant pocket near the Iraqi border late on Saturday, after a pause of more than a week to allow civilians to flee.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy clashes between both sides yesterday morning, as coalition planes and artillery bombarded militant positions.

"The battle is ongoing. There were heavy clashes this morning, with landmines going off," said Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor.

The SDF launched an offensive to expel ISIS from the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor last September.

The Kurdish-led alliance has since whittled down militant-held territory to a patch of just 4 sq km on the eastern banks of the Euphrates.

Up to 600 militants could still be holed up there, most of them foreigners, according to SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.

Since fighting intensified in December, more than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of fighters, have fled out into SDF-held desert areas, the Observatory says.

That figure includes some 3,200 suspected militants detained by the SDF, according to the monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.

At the height of their rule, the militants imposed their brutal interpretation of Islamic law on a territory spanning parts of Syria and Iraq that was roughly the size of Britain.

But separate military offensives in both countries, including by the SDF, have since retaken the vast bulk of the cross-border "caliphate" they declared in 2014. - AFP