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SDF fighters seize last ISIS-held village in Syria

By AFP

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Smoke billows after bombings in Deir Ezzor province as an SDF vehicle stops in Hajin on December 15th, a day after the SDF seized the former ISIS stronghold. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) overran the last village in Syria held by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) on Wednesday (January 23rd), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It is the culmination of a broad offensive launched by the SDF in September with international coalition support, in which they have reduced the group's last enclave near the Iraqi border to a tiny rump.

The capture of the village of al-Baghouz leaves the few remaining diehard ISIS fighters holed up in scattered homesteads among the irrigated fields and orchards on the north bank of the Euphrates Valley.

"Search operations are continuing in al-Baghouz to find any ISIS fighters who are still hiding," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

"The SDF will now have to push on into the farmland around al-Baghouz," he said.

Around 4,900 people, the majority of whom are family members of ISIS fighters, with around 470 ISIS fighters among them, have fled the enclave since Monday, Abdel Rahman said late Tuesday.

Of those, 3,500 surrendered to the advancing SDF on Tuesday alone.

They were evacuated on dozens of trucks chartered by the SDF.

The fall of al-Baghouz follows the SDF's capture of the enclave's sole town of Hajin and the villages of al-Shaafa and al-Sousa in recent weeks.

The new wave of departures means nearly 27,000 people have left former ISIS areas since early December, including almost 1,800 extremists who have surrendered, the Observatory said.

ISIS is now confined to just 10 square kilometres in Deir Ezzor, it added.

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