Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are seen in al-Hawl town near Hasakah after liberating the town from ISIS militants. Photo: ARA News

ARA News 

MANBIJ – US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are moving closer to capturing the Syrian border city of Manbij, but still heavy fighting is continuing. ISIS continues to use snipers and took civilians hostage to stop the advances of the SDF.

In an official statement on Manbij, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced Monday a new initiative to open humanitarian corridors for civilians detained by ISIS, and to allow the ISIS militants to leave the city.

The Islamic State group (ISIS) has earlier rejected two initiatives to open the way for civilians to evacuate the war-torn area. And it’s unlikely that the remaining ISIS fighters will leave the city–protected by civilians used as human shields.

Speaking to ARA News, the SDF official Dr Nasr Haj Mansour said that the SDF forces are tightening the siege on ISIS militants in the Manbij city centre.

“Dozens of ISIS militants detaining thousands of unarmed civilians in an area which is not up to 9 per cent of Manbij city, and using them as human shields,” he said.

“The SDF is making progress and trying to open safe corridors for civilians, where some of those being detained have arrived to SDF-held areas,” Haj Mansour said.

A SDF source told ARA News the fighting continued in Manbij on Monday. 

“Fierce clashes are going on covered by US air strikes, while the smell of dead bodies is everywhere, and SDF forces started with sweeping operation inside the city,” the official sources said. 

“ISIS control only 300 square meters and using civilians as protection, but landmines are hindering the progress of the operation, and a number of SDF fighters lost their lives while storming the houses,” he added.

Berivan Lawend, a female SDF fighter inside Manbij told ARA News the battle is not over yet. “Manbij is almost finished, and the comrades are advancing, the operation is successful. There are not many days left, but I cannot say this exactly.” 

ARA News reporter Wladimir van Wilgenburg on Monday witnessed heavy fighting and ongoing airstrikes in the city of Manbij. The biggest threat is the ongoing presence of ISIS snipers in the city. SDF fighters have been using the help of coalition airstrikes and their own snipers to try to hit the ISIS positions.

Nevertheless, there was celebratory gunfire on Monday evening in the city of Qamishli celebrating the liberation of Manbij. But SDF sources denied the liberation.

According to the SDF official Dr. Nasir Mansour, ISIS is still resisting.

“They collected civilians and started using them as human shields, and there are heavy clashes,” he said. “There are around hundred of ISIS fighters left, but also 1,000 civilians trapped. We should be careful in order not to harm civilians.”

French fighter fighter of the SDF Roj William spoke to ARA News on the frontline, saying that the battle for Manbij could be over soon.

“We are getting towards the end of the fight for the city, in a few more days it will be over,” he said.

While the battle goes on against ISIS in the small remaining pockets of the city, Manbij civilians are suffering from the lack of international support.

Warda (60), a civilian from Manbij, said that they only have bread and water in a camp for displaced civilians from Manbij.

“We have been here for 25 days,” she said complaining about the lack of support.

Another displaced civilian asked for medicine and money, showing her husband who was injured in the fighting.

Nevertheless, the civilians say life was worse under ISIS.

“ISIS terrified the people, cut off hands and heads, forcing women to cover themselves,” she told ARA News.

The SDF has asked for more international aid for the displaced civilians from Manbij.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg and Jan Mohammed

Source: ARA News

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