UN fears for 200 ‘human shield’ families in last Islamic State-held area in Syria

The United Nations says it is concerned for 200 families who remain trapped in the last pocket of territory held by Islamic State in Syria.

The civilians are being used as human shields by about 300 militants still holed up in a small area in the village of Baghuz, which is slowing the advance of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was worried about the civilians’ welfare and called for them to be given safe passage out.

She said the extremists were actively preventing civilians, including women and children, from leaving the tiny area of just a few hundred metres.

The Kurdish-led SDF reportedly later said trucks have been sent into the jihadists’ enclave to evacuate the civilians.

It said isolating innocent people was an important step in trying to retake the final piece of land near the border with Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said 50 trucks had entered the area, apparently to bring out some of those trapped inside.

The observatory had earlier said a request by IS to be evacuated to Iraq was rejected by the SDF.

At the weekend, US Vice President Mike Pence said the IS caliphate has been “decimated” and he vowed IS remnants would be “hunted down wherever and whenever they rear their ugly head”.

At the height of the terrorists’ power in 2014, the “death cult” and its caliphate controlled nearly a third of Iraq and Syria.

IS lost most of its territory in 2017 after separate military campaigns by the SDF and the Iraqi and Syrian governments.

However since then it has carried out guerrilla attacks in areas it controls, and both Western and Middle Eastern officials have said it still poses a threat.

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