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Syria army vows to retake control of Kurdish areas

The SDF is a US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance fighting IS [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2019

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Syria's defence minister warned government forces will reclaim control of eastern areas controlled by the US-backed SDF.
Syrian government forces will reclaim control of eastern areas controlled by the US-backed Kurds, whether by force or through reconciliation, the defence minister warned on Monday.

"The only card that remains in the hands of the Americans and their allies is" the Syrian Democratic Forces, Ali Ayyoub said, referring to the force leading the battle to wipe out the last remnant of the Islamic State group's "caliphate".

"The Syrian government will deal with this issue in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or liberating the territory they control by force," he said at a joint press conference with the military chiefs of staff of Iran and Iraq.

US-backed forces are seeking to flush out die-hard IS fighters with airstrikes and shelling in the militant group's last Syria enclave.

Media activist Abu Muhammad al-Jazrawi told The New Arab that the coalition aircraft and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) resumed bombardment of the camp of al-Baghouz on Sunday, targeting the sites of IS with dozens of missiles.

The bombardment followed a 24-hour lull in the hostilities. 

Tens of thousands of dishevelled women, children and men have streamed out of a small pocket in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border in recent weeks - and they still keep coming.

The huge numbers have flummoxed the SDF and slowed down their offensive aimed at dealing a knock-out blow to the militants' once-sprawling proto-state.

The Kurdish-led force, backed by US-led coalition warplanes, has rained fire on the militants for a week, blitzing thousands of fighters and family members into surrender.

But SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told a news conference Sunday that according to the latest group that quit the pocket, "an estimated 5,000 people" are still holed up inside.

He cautioned, however, that the SDF has not been able to verify that figure.

The SDF spokesman said there was no clear timeline for the end of the operation, estimating that it may take several more days at least before IS is driven from its last pocket.

"I hope it won't take more than a week but this is a personal estimate," he said in the village of Sousa in eastern Syria.

Gabriel said that nearly 30,000 IS members and their relatives have surrendered to US-backed forces since January 9, including more than 5,000 fighters.

An additional 34,000 civilians have been evacuated from the IS redoubt over the same period, he said. 

In Damascus, the UN envoy for Syria held talks on Sunday with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who stressed the need for a Syrian-led political solution to the eight-year war.

Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen discussed efforts to find a political settlement to the conflict, including moves to form a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution, state media said.

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