MESOP REPORT : 3-hours-ago – U.S.-Backed Syrian Force Gives ISIS 48 Hours to Leave Manbij

Asharq Al-Awsat English – Asharq Al-Awsat English – 21 July 2016 – A U.S.-backed force fighting to drive ISIS out of Manbij said on Thursday it was giving the jihadist group 48 hours to pull out of their stronghold in the northern Syrian city, aiming to “protect civilian lives” there. “This initiative is the last remaining chance for besieged members of Daesh (ISIS) to leave the town,” said the Manbij Military Council, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.

ISIS militants will be allowed to leave the city with light weapons, without a fight, the council said in a statement. The statement also urged civilians to try to leave the town or distance themselves from areas where clashes are taking place. The council is allied to the U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab alliance known as the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been fighting ISIS in northern Syria with the support of air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition. The SDF fighters, who quickly took control of the territory surrounding Manbij last month, have in recent weeks taken western parts of the city in slower advances. Activists say dozens of civilians have been killed this week in air strikes in the city and to the north, and the opposition Syrian National Coalition called for a suspension of the air strikes while the incidents are investigated.

The deaths triggered local protests, as well as opposition calls for a halt to such strikes and demands for a thorough investigation. An SDF commander told AFP that tribal leaders in Manbij had suggested a 48-hour ultimatum last week. “But we took this decision now after ISIS used residents as human shields, after the media pressure on us, and to protect whatever civilians are left in the town,” the commander said on condition of anonymity. Clashes and air strikes continued Thursday in Manbij, where SDF forces advanced overnight, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said SDF fighters seized a southern district of the town, “bringing them the closest they have been to the center of Manbij.”


The U.N.’s children agency condemned the killing of children amid Syria’s ongoing civil war following the brutal incidents in the country’s north.In a statement distributed Thursday, UNICEF says dozens of children were among those killed in and around the town of Manbij in the past few days. UNICEF says “no matter where they are in Syria or under whose control they live – absolutely nothing justifies attacks on children.”

French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday he had no immediate information on whether French planes were responsible for the air strike.Syria’s foreign ministry had said Tuesday’s attack, which hit the village of Toukhan north of Manbij, was carried out by French forces. “On the actions of the coalition, I have no exact information on what French planes could have done,” Hollande said. “We are striking in the framework of the coalition and are very careful in our strikes,” he told reporters alongside Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.