For the fourth consecutive day, fighting between jihadists and Kurdish forces supported by the international coalition continued to rage on Sunday in northeastern Syria with the death toll increased to more than 136.
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Triggered on Thursday evening by a major assault by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) on Ghwayran prison, one of the largest housing jihadists in Syria at war, the clashes forced thousands of civilians to flee in a cold. glacial.
The assault was launched by a hundred IS fighters to free their comrades detained in this prison in the Hassaké region, under Kurdish control.
This attack is the largest claimed by IS since its 2019 defeat in Syria against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by Kurdish forces and supported by the international anti-jihadist coalition led by the United States.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), “84 jihadists and 45 Kurdish fighters have been killed” in four days, as well as “seven civilians” in these fights which are taking place in and around the prison.
The SDF said in a statement that “IS fighters inside the prison compound could no longer escape”, their forces having cordoned off the area.
According to the OSDH, the FDS secured almost the entire sector and a large part of the prison, with the exception of a few cells. They are supported by the aviation of the international coalition.
The FDS had deployed in force in and around the prison, looking for the jihadists and calling via loudspeakers for civilians to leave the area.
According to local Kurdish authorities, thousands of people have left their homes near the prison.
The jihadists “enter the houses and kill people”, told AFP a resident fleeing on foot.
“It’s a miracle we got out alive,” he said, carrying a child buried in a woolen blanket. “The situation is still very bad. After four days, the fierce fighting continues.
Hamcha Sweidan, an 80-year-old woman who also managed to escape, said: “We were going to die of hunger and thirst”. And “now we don’t know where to go”.
The fighting was heard in neighboring sectors, noted an AFP correspondent.
A hundred escapees were caught by Kurdish forces, but dozens are still on the run, said the OSDH.
The SDF claimed to have seized explosive belts, weapons and ammunition during the counterattack.
For their part, the attackers said they seized weapons and freed “hundreds” of jihadists.
“Finding Your Strength”
In a video released on Saturday, IS shows around 25 men, some in military garb, claiming they are Kurds captured during the assault.
Commenting on the video, the SDF claimed that the captives were staff members working in the prison kitchen.
According to Nicholas Heras, of the Newlines Institute in Washington, “prison breaks represent the best opportunity for IS to regain its strength and Ghwayran prison is a good target because it is overcrowded”.
But for the anti-jihadist coalition, “this attempt to escape from the IS does not constitute a significant threat”. She believes in a statement on Sunday that “if the IS remains a threat, it clearly no longer has its former strength”.
The Kurds, who control parts of northern and north-eastern Syria, have been calling for years in vain for the repatriation of some 12,000 jihadists of more than 50 nationalities – Europeans and others – detained in their prisons.
Many of these prisons were originally schools and are therefore ill-suited to holding inmates for the long term.
Triggered in March 2011 by the repression of pro-democracy demonstrations, the war in Syria has become more complex over the years with the involvement of regional and international powers and the rise of jihadists.
Despite its defeat in 2019, ISIS still manages to carry out deadly attacks through dormant cells.
The conflict has killed around 500,000 people according to the OSDH, devastated the country’s infrastructure and displaced millions of people.