Hundreds more people fled Daesh’s last enclave in Syria on Wednesday, part of an exodus of many thousands leaving the group’s tiny pocket of land while US-backed forces hold off from an offensive, says Reuters.
Baghouz, a tiny cluster of hamlets and farmland on the banks of the Euphrates at the Iraqi border, is all that remains to Daesh of the caliphate straddling the two countries which its leader proclaimed in 2014.
Around 40,000 people have come out in total, including 15,000 since the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced a final assault to capture it on February 9, said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.
The number surpassed initial estimates and has delayed the attack.
As people have walked out of Baghouz, including many families of Islamic State fighters, they have been met by SDF forces and trucked to al-Hol, a displaced people’s camp in northeast Syria.
Some 78 people have died reaching the camp or soon afterwards over three months, the World Health Organisation said, two-thirds of them babies. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid agency working in northeast Syria, said it was aware of two more babies dying on Wednesday.
“As many of the new arrivals are pregnant women close to their due date, there is a real need to increase maternity services in the camp,” said the IRC.
Most of the remaining Daesh fighters holed up in Baghouz are foreigners who have dug defensive tunnels, according to the SDF.
Some people coming from Baghouz in recent days have expressed more open loyalty to Daesh than those who left earlier on, hinting at the risk the group still poses despite its territorial defeat in Syria and Iraq.
The SDF wants foreign governments to help repatriate Daesh militants, saying the burden and risk of holding them are growing.