ISIS fighters get safe passage from Raqqa under US-brokered deal

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14 November 2017

Islamic State fighters remaining in Raqqa, once the group's de facto capital, have brokered a deal that would allow them to leave the city with a number of human shields, according to agencies in Syria.

A convoy left Raqqa in Syria on Saturday under an evacuation deal agreed as a US-backed force battles to seize IS's last positions in the city.

The US-led coalition said the deal for the evacuation would exclude foreign Islamic State fighters, but left unclear whether Syrian jihadists would be able to quit their one-time stronghold.

The agreement, reached by local officials, comes after days of talks on a way for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to secure the last parts of the city while avoiding further civilian casualties.

Earlier on Saturday, the US-led coalition said around 100 IS fighters had surrendered to the SDF in the past 24 hours, but again stressed that no foreign fighters would be allowed to escape the city.

In neighbouring Deir Ezzor province meanwhile, Syria's army captured the IS stronghold of Mayadeen, in the latest blow to the jihadists who are seeing their self-styled "caliphate" crumble.

Raqqa was once the de facto Syrian capital of the jihadist group's "caliphate" and the city's loss would be a new blow for IS, which has already been driven from its strongholds in Iraq including second city Mosul.

In June, the US-backed SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, broke into Raqqa, and since then they have captured around 90 percent of the city.

Omar Alloush, a senior official of the Raqqa Civil Council, told Agence France-Presse a deal had been reached to allow fighters out of the city, which was on the verge of being captured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

According to Alloush, up to 500 fighters including both Syrian and foreign-born jihadists were in Raqqa. Coalition sources put the number lower at 300-400 fighters. The coalition estimated earlier this week that 300 to 400 militants remained in the city. On Friday, a local official said an estimated about 100 militants had surrendered.

''They [IS] have 400 hostages with them women and children in the national hospital,'' Alloush told AFP.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops backed by Shia militias had taken control of the town but were still combing it for militants.





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