Hundreds of Kurds fleeing villages held by the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization in northern Syria amid a wave of mass abductions have been shot at, with several killed or wounded, opposition activists and a Kurdish official said Saturday.
In the northern province of Aleppo, the hundreds of Kurds fled as the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed and predominantly Kurdish militia, clashed with ISIS inside Manbij, a key ISIS stronghold. The SDF have pushed into the town from the southern edge, capturing grain silos and flour mills, according to the Observatory.
One family who fled was struck by a mine on Friday that killed two family members and wounded the other three, Sherfan Darwish, an SDF spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said a 10-year-old girl was killed by ISIS sniper fire on Friday. “Civilians are defying death in order to leave areas controlled by Daesh,” Darwish said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The exodus began after ISIS abducted about 900 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo province over the past three weeks and forced them to build fortifications for them in retaliation for the Kurdish-led assault, which is also targeting the ISIS stronghold of al-Bab. Others were trying to flee Manbij, which is surrounded by SDF fighters.
Some of the abducted Kurds have been pressed into digging trenches and shelters for ISIS, according to the Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman. Darwish said others are being used as human shields.
Abdurrahman said some 120 more Kurds have been abducted since Friday. ISIS has warned residents who leave that they will not be allowed to return to their homes and “will be punished if they try to return,” he said.
He said many of those fleeing are heading to areas that were recently captured by the SDF south of the ISIS-held town of Marea. Abdurrahman said ISIS fighters opened fire on those fleeing, killing several of them, including children.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist-run monitoring group, said ISIS opened fire at people trying to flee from Manbij, killing 10 of them, including children.
The Syria Democratic Council, the political wing of SDF, called on the international community and aid groups to supply those fleeing with whatever they need, saying many of them are in open areas.
The SDC called on the world to help the SDF “prevent the occurrence of a catastrophe or a massacre,” saying there were “indications” one might happen. The SDF also includes Arab and Christian forces.
Manbij lies along the only ISIS supply line between the Syrian-Turkish border to the north and the terror group’s self-styled capital, Raqqa, which lies to the southeast.
If Manbij is captured, it would be the biggest strategic defeat for ISIS in Syria since July 2015, when it lost the border town of Tal Abyad.
The US has embedded 300 Special Forces with the SDF. The White House says they are advisers. French Special Forces are also embedded with the group.