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More civilians leave Islamic State's Syria enclave, delaying final assault


BAGHOUZ, Syria - The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) paused military operations against Islamic State (IS) militants holed up in the group’s final enclave in eastern Syria, expecting more civilians to be evacuated from the area on Saturday, an SDF official said.

Thousands of people - many of them the wives of IS fighters and their children - have been streaming out of besieged enclave at Baghouz for weeks, forcing the SDF to delay the assault to wipe out the last vestige of the jihadists’ territorial rule.

The SDF has said it wants to make sure all civilians are out of the enclave before launching its final assault. Hundreds of IS fighters have also surrendered, but the SDF believes the most hardened foreign jihadists are still inside.

“There are a number of families ... military operations are paused now for their evacuation,” Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters.

Trucks used for the evacuations went into Baghouz on Saturday and four have so far emerged carrying people, a Reuters witness said.

On Friday, Bali said the SDF would resume the assault if no more civilians had emerged by Saturday afternoon.

Those emerging from Baghouz are screened by the SDF and most are sent north to the al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis from years of war.

More than 62,000 people displaced by fighting around the IS enclave have flooded al-Hol camp, with 5,200 arriving between March 5-7 and thousands more expected, the United Nations said on Friday.

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