Clashes between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS fighters who assaulted a prison complex in Hassakeh, northeast Syria are ongoing, despite prior announcements that the attack had been quelled.
Battles broke out anew on Saturday in the vicinity of the prison in Hassakeh between the SDF and members of ISIS who were hiding in the area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
According to the UK-based war monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, four ISIS fighters took a local official and three civilians hostage for hours, holding them in a residential building near the prison. Kurdish forces later freed the hostages and killed three ISIS gunmen.
Assailants broke into the sprawling Ghweran prison complex near the city of Hassakeh on January 20, sparking days of heavy fighting that killed 270 people.
The SDF announced that it had recaptured the prison on Wednesday, but “mop-up operations” continued. About 3,500 ISIS members surrendered, but others barricaded themselves inside the prison.
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ISIS gunmen are in “cellars that are difficult to target with airstrikes or infiltrate”, the Syrian Observatory said. SDF officials estimate between 60 and 90 ISIS fighters are still in the basement and the ground floor above it.
Twenty surrendered on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory said, adding that the SDF killed another five in an exchange of fire inside the prison.
Kurdish forces have repeatedly called for ISIS gunmen to surrender. “Our forces have not used force with them so far,” Farhad Shami, who heads the SDF’s media office, told the AFP news agency.
Shami said the bodies of the fighters would be buried in “remote, dedicated areas” under SDF control.
The violence prompted 45,000 people to flee Hassakeh, the UN said. Many took refuge in relatives’ homes, while hundreds more have slept in the city’s mosques and wedding halls.
Residents say recent high-profile ISIS operations only confirmed what they have known and feared for months.
“We would think it is over and they’re not coming back. Then suddenly, everything turns upside down again,” one Syrian man told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety.
They are “everywhere”, he said, adding that the fighters mostly operate at night in flash attacks on military posts or targetted killings carried out from speeding motorcycles.
“It is always hit-and-run,” he said. “Everyone is afraid of assassinations. They have prestige, they have a reputation. They will never go away.”
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.