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US-Backed Forces Close In     01/24 06:51

   

   BEIRUT (AP) -- U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters began closing in Monday 
on the last wing of a prison in northeastern Syria that has been controlled by 
militants for days, the force and a war monitor said. The raid aims to end one 
of the most brazen attacks by the Islamic State group in years.

   Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said 
forces are deploying with the prison facility and taking over buildings near 
the northern wing of the prison, where dozens of IS militants have been holed 
up since Thursday. Dozens have been killed in clashes since.

   Shami said the force advanced after arresting dozens of militants who were 
in buildings nearby.

   Journalists at the scene said Kurdish officials have asked them to step away 
from the prison vicinity earlier Monday, apparently in anticipation of a 
military operation.

   The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a buildup of 
Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. armored vehicles around the prison earlier 
Monday. Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Observatory, said SDF and 
accompanying forces took over buildings near the northern wing after combing 
the area and after about 30 IS militants surrendered.

   Eyewitnesses in Hasskeh said buses arrived to the prison, apparently to 
transport those who handed themselves in. Coalition helicopters were hovering 
overhead, a Hassakeh resident said.

   Late Sunday, the Kurdish-led administration announced a weeklong curfew in 
Hassakeh starting Monday. Hundreds of city residents have fled the fighting.

   The standoff followed the bold assault on the Gweiran prison in Hassakeh 
city Thursday. Militants rammed vehicles through its walls, enabling a number 
of militants to escape and hold hostages. Clashes have continued for days, 
including with militants holed up in adjacent residential areas. The U.S-led 
coalition carried out a number of strikes on suspected militants, who had taken 
control of the northern wing of the prison.

   On Sunday, Shami said the militants were using hundreds of minors detained 
in Gweiran as human shields.

   Abdurrahman said scores of minors, some as young as 15, had been moved to 
another prison facility to the south soon after the assault began.

   More than 3,000 suspected IS militants, including over 600 minors, are held 
in Gweiran, the largest of a dozen detention facilities in Syria housing 
militants.

   The SDF said about 27 of its fighters were killed in the assault. 
Abdurrahman, of the Observatory, put the figure at 52, adding that about 100 
militants were killed. The SDF said about 100 escaped and were arrested by the 
total number of fugitives is still not clear.

   The SDF is running nearly a dozen facilities in northeastern Syria housing 
thousands of suspected IS militants, including foreigners, following the defeat 
of the extremists in 2019. The Kurdish-led administration has said the 
facilities were a strain on its resources and had appealed for countries to 
repatriate their nationals.

   Thousands of IS family members and supporters are also held in displacement 
camps, in what amounts to detention facilities mostly for women and children.

 
 
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