Portugal Colonial - Hundreds of IS jihadists surrender as Kurds advance inside Syria jail

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Hundreds of IS jihadists surrender as Kurds advance inside Syria jail
Hundreds of IS jihadists surrender as Kurds advance inside Syria jail

Hundreds of IS jihadists surrender as Kurds advance inside Syria jail

Hundreds of Islamic State group fighters surrendered Wednesday in a Syria prison where they had been holed up for days, as US-backed Kurdish forces tightened the noose around remaining jihadists.

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More than 100 jihadists of the Islamic State group last week attacked Ghwayran prison in the Kurdish-controlled northeastern city of Hasakeh.

The brazen assault on the Kurdish-run facility involved a double suicide bombing and saw the jihadists free fellow IS members, seize weapons and take over several cell blocks, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It is considered the most sophisticated attack carried out by the group since it was territorially defeated in Syria nearly three years ago.

More than 1,000 men have so far surrendered to Kurdish forces combing areas inside and outside the prison, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and the Observatory said Wednesday.

"Terrorists are still holed up in some pockets in a northern" section of the jail, said Farhad Shami of the SDF's media office, adding that "precise operations" were ongoing to eliminate the threat.

Fighting in and around the prison since Thursday has killed 181 people, including 124 IS jihadists, 50 Kurdish fighters and seven civilians, according to the Observatory.

With operations under way inside the prison, there were fears for the fate of minors detained at Ghwayran, which held more than 700 boys among 3,500 IS suspects prior to the attack.

- 'Nightmare scenario' -

"They say they fear they'll be shot down if they try to come out. They are begging for food, water, medicine," said Human Rights Watch researcher Letta Tayler, adding she had made contact with three inmates, including one minor, trapped inside the jail.

They are calling for the United Nations "or other international organisations to negotiate their safe exit," Tayler said.

A tense standoff has gripped the prison, with Kurdish forces and their IS foes facing either a bloodbath or talks to end the fighting.

Kurdish forces have cut off supplies of food and water to the jail for two days to pressure holdout jihadists to surrender, the Observatory said.

"The most likely way this ends is with the total defeat of the IS fighters at the prison," said Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Newlines Institute.

"But the nightmare scenario for the SDF and the US-led coalition is a drawn out standoff that kills hundreds, including many children prisoners."

Since Monday, Kurdish forces have freed at least 32 prison staff, some of whom appeared in video footage that IS had shared on social media after launching the attack, the Observatory says.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said a Syrian IS jihadist was negotiating with Kurdish forces to end the mutiny and secure medical care for wounded jihadists.

Shami of the SDF media office said the SDF had made calls for IS to surrender, but he refused to refer to them as formal negotiations.

- 'International problem' -

Ghwayran is the prison with the largest number of suspected IS members in Syria, the Observatory says.

Kurdish authorities say more than 50 nationalities are represented in Kurdish-run prisons, where more than 12,000 IS suspects are held.

The Kurdish administration has long warned it does not have the capacity to hold, let alone put on trial, the thousands of IS fighters captured in years of operations.

"This issue is an international problem," the administration's top foreign policy official, Abdulkarim Omar, told AFP on Wednesday.

"We cannot face it alone."

He called on the international community to "support the autonomous administration to improve security and humanitarian conditions for inmates in detention centres and for those in overcrowded camps".

The proto-state declared by IS in 2014 once straddled large parts of Iraq and Syria.

After five years of military operations conducted by local and international forces, its last rump was eventually flushed out on the banks of the Euphrates in eastern Syria in March 2019.