© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Injured Islamic state militants are observed in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province

BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed fighters mentioned they had taken positions in Islamic State’s final enclave in eastern Syria and air strikes pounded the tiny patch of land beside the Euphrates River early on Monday, a Reuters journalist mentioned.

Smoke rose more than the tiny enclave as warplanes and artillery bombarded it. An additional witness mentioned the jihadists had earlier mounted a counter attack.

“Numerous positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” mentioned Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, on Twitter late on Sunday.

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary cars and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be observed flapping in the wind in the course of a lull in fighting as individuals walked amongst them.

Backed by air energy and unique forces from a U.S.-led coalition, the SDF has pushed Islamic State from nearly the whole northeastern corner of Syria, defeating it in Raqqa in 2017 and driving it to its final enclave at Baghouz final year.

But when its defeat at Baghouz will finish its manage of populated land in the third of Syria and Iraq that it captured in 2014, the group will stay a threat, regional and Western officials say.

The SDF has waged a staggered assault on the enclave, pausing for extended periods more than current weeks to permit surrendering fighters, their households and other civilians to pour out.

Due to the fact Jan. 9, far more than 60,000 individuals have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Islamic State supporters like some five,000 fighters, the SDF mentioned on Sunday.

Individuals leaving the region have spoken of harsh circumstances inside, below coalition bombardment and with supplies of meals so scarce some resorted to consuming grass.

Final month, the SDF mentioned it had located a mass grave in an region it captured.

Nonetheless, quite a few of these who left Baghouz have vowed their allegiance to the jihadist group, which final week place out a propaganda film from inside the enclave calling on its supporters to maintain faith.

Suicide attacks on Friday targeted households of Islamic State fighters attempting to leave the enclave and surrender, killing six individuals, the SDF mentioned.

Late on Sunday, the Kurdish Ronahi Television station aired footage displaying a renewed assault on the enclave, with fires observed to be raging inside and tracer fire and rockets zooming into the tiny region.

The SDF and the coalition say the Islamic State fighters inside Baghouz are amongst the group’s most hardened foreign fighters, even though Western nations think its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left the region.

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