Islamic State (IS) militants on Saturday clashed with US-backed fighters in the Syrian town of Manbij, pursuing their fierce defence of the jihadist stronghold and ignoring a deadline to leave.
There are growing fears of the fate of civilians trapped in Manbij, formerly a key stop along IS’s supply route from neighbouring Turkey into its self-styled Islamic “caliphate” in Syria.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) penetrated the town one month ago but have since been hindered by a bloody IS counter-offensive amid concerns about civilians.
On Saturday, IS jihadists appeared to ignore a 48-hour ultimatum to leave issued by the Manbij Military Council, a key SDF member.
“The 48-hour period is over, and there will be no more opportunities like this one for Daesh (IS),” a commander from the council told AFP on condition of anonymity.
IS has “not responded” to the SDF’s offer and instead “attacked our positions”, he said.
The ultimatum came after at least 56 civilians, including children, were reportedly killed Tuesday in US-led coalition air strikes near Manbij.
The commander pledged that his forces would “intensify our attacks on their remaining positions”.
The council’s spokesman, Sherfan Darwish, stressed in an online statement today that SDF forces in Manbij “are committed to securing safe passage to the best of their ability for any civilian able to flee Daesh (IS)’s brutality”.
Thousands of civilians have already fled Manbij, which is in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.
More than half of Syria’s population has been displaced since the conflict erupted in 2011, and at least 280,000 people have been killed.