Syria, UN: civilians used as human shields by ISIS to repel assault on last stronghold

At least 200 families are trapped in the Baghuz area, in the middle of the Euphrates River valley, not far from the Iraq border. They are threatened with weapons by the militia. Bachelet: "Ensure safe passage for those who want to escape". Jihadist request for a transfer to Idlib rejected.

(AsiaNews/Agencies) - At least 200 families are still trapped in the last stronghold of the Islamic State (SI, ex Isis) in Syria, which could be used as "human shields" by the jihadists to reject the Arab-Kurdish offensive. The civilians are held and threatened with weapons by some 300 militiamen, barricaded in a village in the eastern province; the fear of their fate has slowed the advance of US-led coalition forces.

In 2015, at the time of its greatest expansion, ISIS controlled half of the territory of Iraq and Syria. Although still representing a "significant threat" to the UN, the jihadist group has lost most of its dominions and is perched in the Baghuz area, in the middle of the Euphrates River valley, not far from the border with Iraq.

According to reports by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the jihadists prevent the escape to the safety of the families of civilians still trapped in the area, where heavy coalition bombings is underway. There are also dozens of women and children inside. "The civilians - he adds - continue to be used as pawns by various parts. I ask for a safe passage for those who want to escape ".

Yesterday evening, dozens of trucks arrived in the area to evacuate civilians, so far in vain. According to the Syrian Democratic Forces (Sdf, US wire), isolating innocent people and trying to ensure their protection is an "important step" in the attempt to reconquer the last piece of land still under the jihadist control.

Sources of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, NGOs based in the United Kingdom and a dense network of informants on the ground, echo a request made in recent days by the jihadists. They demand a safe passage to the province of Idlib - in the hands of extremist groups and anti-Assad rebels - or to neighboring Iraq. However, a SDF spokesperson rejected the proposal by reiterating that the militia have only two options: surrender or death in battle.