BEIRUT (AP) — Hundreds of Kurds fleeing villages controlled by the Islamic State group in northern Syria have come under fire that killed and wounded several of them, amid mass abductions by the extremist group, opposition activists and a Kurdish official said Saturday.
They fled as the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed and predominantly Kurdish militia, clashed with IS inside Manbij, a key stronghold of the extremist group. The SDF have pushed into the town from the southern edge, capturing grain silos and flour mills, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
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 IS sniper fire on Friday. “Civilians are defying death in order to leave areas controlled by Daesh,” Darwish said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
The exodus began after IS abducted about 900 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo province over the past three weeks, forcing the captives to build fortifications for the extremists in retaliation for the Kurdish-led assault, which is also targeting the IS stronghold of al-Bab. Others were trying to flee Manbij, which is surrounded by SDF fighters.
Some of the abducted Kurds have been pressganged into digging trenches and shelters for IS, 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. The extremists have 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 IS-held town of Marea. Abdurrahman said IS fighters opened fire on those fleeing, killing several of them, including children.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist-run monitoring group, said IS 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 IS supply line between the Syrian-Turkish border to the north and the extremist group’s self-styled capital, Raqqa, which lies to the southeast.
If Manbij is captured, it will be the biggest strategic defeat for IS in Syria since July 2015, when the extremist group lost the border town of Tal Abyad.
The U.S. has embedded 300 special forces with the SDF. The White House says they are advisers. French special forces are also embedded with the group.
In neighboring Turkey, Syrian opposition cameraman Khalid AlEissa died late Friday in a hospital where he was brought for treatment after being wounded in an explosion last week in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, according to several activist groups, including the Observatory.