Following its defeat in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) has been engaging in a show of force in the neighbouring city of al-Bab, local residents and activists tell Diyaruna.
In and around the Aleppo province city, ISIL elements have been detaining men and youth at random, particularly ethnic Kurds, and taking them to unknown locations, they said.
Additionally, they said, ISIL has seized most of the houses of residents who fled the area, and is using them as posts for its elements or accommodation for their families.
Clamping down on residents
ISIL is clamping down on al-Bab in the wake of the losses the group suffered in Manbij , said media activist Tariq al-Ahmad, an administrator of Al-Bab Al-Hadath Facebook page, which reports regional news and military developments.
The group is particularly focused on ethnic Kurds, he told Diyaruna, who are vulnerable to being detained for no reason.
ISIL is looking to round up the largest possible number of Kurds to use as human shields when the battle to liberate the city begins, he said, adding that most of those who remain in the area are farmers or families without the financial means to flee.
According to al-Ahmad, the group is raiding villages in the countryside around al-Bab and conducting random detentions, in some cases detaining entire communities, as some villages do not exceed 200 residents.
"In some cases they are merely small agrarian communities," he said. "No one knows precisely where the group takes those detainees."
ISIL elements are raiding homes in search of satellite phones, he added, after shutting down internet cafés in the city and banning subscription internet providers.
The group also has prohibited residents from using satellite dishes, he said, and has been raiding homes to search for satellite receivers.
"This has left al-Bab and its rural areas semi-isolated from the outside world, as no one inside it has access to news from the outside world, and very few [on the outside] know what is going on inside," he said.
Large ISIL presence in al-Bab
Military officials in the area report a heavy presence of ISIL elements in al-Bab.
After ISIL withdrew from Manbij, hundreds of its fighters headed to al-Bab, where they were joined by dozens of others coming from al-Rai close to the borders with Turkey, said Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander Abu Ibrahim, using a pseudonym out of concern for his safety.
A number of opposition factions fighting under the FSA banner recently drove ISIL from al-Rai.
Abu Ibrahim told Diyaruna he believes the large number of ISIL fighters in al-Bab is "a harbinger of violent battles to come" if the signal is given to storm the city.
The civilians abducted by the group will be an obstacle to any military operation "given the certainty that the group will resort to using them as human shields to prolong the battle or to secure the withdrawal of its elements", he added.
ISIL has deployed its spies throughout al-Bab to collect information in order to detain those who organise escapes from the area or communicate with the outside world, he said.
"Executions are carried out in the city and its rural areas against those suspected of communicating with any force hostile to ISIL, who are readily branded with the charge of apostasy," Abu Ibrahim said.
The penalty for apostasy is often execution, "according to the norms established by ISIL", he said.
Efforts to accommodate the displaced
"Red Crescent teams are continuing their efforts to accommodate those displaced from the city of al-Bab and its rural areas, and have set up camps for the large numbers of citizens fleeing ISIL," said Azad Dudeki, who heads a Kurdish Red Crescent team operating in the Afrin canton.
They are working to secure tents as well as food and medical supplies in the vicinity of Afrin, he told Diyaruna.
The main camps are at full capacity, he said, while the new camps still require much work in terms of infrastructure and services such as the provision of drinking water.
"Some organisations are trying to provide basic needs in the form of a food basket distributed bi-weekly," he said. "However many of the families are scattered among the villages and rural areas of Afrin, making the task of sheltering them and providing them with aid very difficult."
Concerning the medical situation, Dudeki said the Red Crescent set up a number of fixed posts in the large camps, and operates mobile facilities that tour areas where the displaced have gathered to provide them with medicine and vaccines.