Kurdish fighters were deployed to northeastern Syria on Monday to respond to a jihadist assault on a prison, raising serious concerns about the fate of hundreds of minors, who are still being held there. According to our information, the two parties have started negotiations.
The battle in Hassakeh continues. More Kurdish fighters were deployed Monday (January 24th) in northeastern Syria to deal with an assault that the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) launched on a prison. But the battle, which has been going on for several days, is causing serious concern due to the hundreds of minors, many of them foreigners, who are still detained there.
Thursday, January 20, more than a hundred members of the IS stormed with truck bombs and heavy weapons the Ghwayran prison in Hassaké, one of the largest housing jihadists in Syria.
Heavy fighting between Kurdish forces and IS fighters has been going on for several days inside and around the prison following this attack, the largest claimed by IS since its defeat nearly three years ago in Syria.
According to our Wassim Nasr, journalist at France 24, specialist in jihadist movements, the members of the EI have also started negotiations with the forces of the coalition for a departure in the desert of Badiya with their hostages recovered inside Ghwayran prison.
According to a new report established Monday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), 154 people were killed in five days of fighting – 102 jihadists, 45 Kurdish fighters and 7 civilians.
Nearly 45,000 people fled their homes after the prison was stormed and the intense fighting ensued, according to the UN.
Spearheading the fight against ISIS, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition have “begun intruding into parts of the prison, which remains under control of IS” after releasing several Kurdish fighters and staff held by IS, according to the OSDH.
While the offensive is largely led by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US military has also deployed soldiers there. This, after carrying out strikes during the first days of battle.
The battles continue inside the prison itself. Other IS fighters have holed up in a former college building near the prison, according to Wassim Nasr.
The FDS said in a statement that about 300 IS fighters had surrendered following a raid on one of the buildings where they had gathered in the penitentiary center.
According to human rights groups and the UN, more than 700 minors are held in Ghwayran, in a former school converted into a very overcrowded detention center, housing at least 3,500 suspected members of IS, including many foreigners, including Westerners.
The minors there are from Syria, Iraq but also dozens of other foreign countries, according to the NGO Save the Children. According to Eva Hinds, spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the fate of the trapped minors, of whom around 10% are believed to be 15 years old or younger, was a source of “grave concern”.
“The FDS had initially allocated a special section for children,” Eva Hinds said. “Many of them have adult relatives inside [de la prison] and have since joined them in other sections.”
For Sara Kayyali, researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), “children are indeed trapped [dans la prison]”.
The researcher said she received a voicemail from an injured miner in Ghwayran saying that “there is[vaient] corpses everywhere”. “Children are at considerable risk on both sides.”
Save the Children, which also received a voicemail from a minor pleading for help and reporting multiple deaths of minors, called for the immediate evacuation of the children from the prison.
In their statement, the FDS reported the presence of minors in the prison, taken “hostage” and used as “human shields” by the jihadists, to protect themselves from attacks.
“Best opportunity for IS to regain its strength”
Main support of the Kurdish forces during their offensives against the IS, the coalition forces based in the region have massively deployed in Hassaké.
In a statement released on Monday, the Washington-led coalition said it was “determined to defeat” the IS attack. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby later clarified that US forces were involved in the fighting.
‘We conducted a series of ‘precision’ strikes targeting ‘ISIS fighters attacking the SDF from buildings in the area’, and US forces are also providing ‘limited’ ground support, including positioning armor on the roads leading to the prison, he added.
With northeastern Syria in the grip of freezing cold, civilians living near the prison do not know where to flee.
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”.
The Kurds, who control parts of northern and northeastern Syria, have been calling for years in vain for the repatriation of some 12,000 jihadists of more than 50 nationalities – European and other – detained in their prisons.
Despite its defeat in 2019, IS still manages to carry out deadly attacks through sleeper cells.
>> To read also on France24.com: The jihadists of the EI group “can still strike in the four corners of Syria”