Backed forces begin "final battle" to regain ISIS towns

Islamic State chief escapes death as his fighters turn on him: report

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by Washington, plan to attack the last ISIS enclave in Syria once civilians, who are still inside that area, have been evacuated, an SDF official said.

"Our forces are relying on direct combat with light weapons", Mr Bali said.

Monitors the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF were advancing across farmland, and there were heavy clashes and landmines going off.

The coalition has been training and providing aerial support to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which launched an offensive on the last patch of jihadist territory in September 2018.

Up to 600 fighters could still remain inside, a lot of them foreigners, according to Bali.

The observatory also estimated several hundred civilians remained in the area as well. Until now, the extremist group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is still in hiding.

"We do not think he is in Syria", Bali said, without adding further details about the whereabouts of the man who declared a cross-border IS "caliphate" in 2014.

In December, Trump declared victory over the Islamic State terror group in war-torn Syria and announced that American forces would be "coming home soon", sparking concern among officials in Washington and allies overseas.

At its peak in 2014, IS established a "caliphate" stretching across Syria and Iraq that was similar in size to the United Kingdom and ruled over more than 7.7 million people.

But military offensives in both countries, including by the SDF, have since retaken the vast bulk of that "caliphate".

"Village of Baghuz, which is the only remaining #ISIS pocket, will be cleared soon", SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali wrote on Twitter.

The Kurdish-Arab militia - backed by U.S. air strikes - have now resumed the fight to take the last four-square-kilometre (one-square-mile) patch of territory in eastern Syria's Deir az-Zour from IS.

They have urged Western governments to repatriate their nationals, but politicians overseas have been reluctant.

The enclave, close to the Iraqi border, comprises two villages.

A Turkish official said the United States had not signaled to Ankara a date when the USA withdrawal from Syria would be completed. The US has aimed to avert a direct fight (in which the Kurds would face slaughter or certain retreat), but simultaneously to prevent its Kurdish allies on the ground from entering the embrace and protection of Assad.

"We will launch an attack to end the Daesh (IS) presence or they will turn themselves in".

The Kurds, who have de facto semi-autonomy in northeastern Syria, are also engaged in behind-the-scenes diplomatic talks over the fate of the region.

As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before.

Almost eight years into the war, President Bashar Assad's regime has advanced against rebels and jihadis, and holds nearly two-thirds of the country.

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