Fighting continues Saturday for the third day in a row between the Islamic State (IS) group and Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, following a major jihadist attack that left nearly 90 dead.
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“At least 28 members of the Kurdish security forces, five civilians and 56 IS fighters have been killed” since the start of the attack on Ghwayran prison, one of the largest housing jihadists in Syria, said indicated Rami Abdel Rahmane, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH).
On the front line in the fight against IS, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by Kurdish fighters and supported by the international anti-jihadist coalition, defeated the jihadist group in Syria in 2019 by driving it out of its last stronghold of Baghouz in the province of Deir Ezzor (east).
Despite its defeat, IS is carrying out deadly attacks, particularly in the vast Syrian desert, which stretches from the central province of Homs to that of Deir Ezzor, on the border with Iraq.
During the night of Thursday to Friday, the IS launched an assault on this prison located in the city of Hassaké, which houses some 3,500 suspected members of the IS, including leaders of the group, the OSDH said again.
According to the NGO, which has an extensive network of sources in Syria, the jihadists “had seized weapons they had found” in the armory of the detention center.
The OSDH also claimed that the prison was surrounded by Kurdish forces with the support of the air force of the international coalition and that hundreds of IS prisoners had been arrested.
Dozens of detainees managed to escape following this attack, the largest since the defeat of IS in 2019 in Syria, according to the NGO.
“Heavy fighting” took place in neighborhoods north of Ghwayran prison, where raids killed more than 20 IS fighters, according to a statement released on Saturday by the SDF which seized explosive belts, weapons and ammunition.
The fighting sparked an exodus of civilians from neighborhoods near Ghwayran, and several families fled the area in the cold as Kurdish forces closed in on jihadist targets. “Thousands of people have left their homes near the prison, fleeing to nearby areas where their relatives live,” Sheikhmous Ahmed, an official with the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration, told AFP.
On Friday, in a statement released by “its news agency” Amaq, the jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack on the prison, indicating that the objective of this operation was “to free the prisoners”.
“ISIS wants to go beyond its status as a terrorist and criminal network and to do that it needs more fighters,” Nicholas Heras of the Newlines Institute in Washington told AFP.
“Prison breaks represent the best opportunity for IS to regain its strength in arms, and Ghwayran prison is a good target because it is overcrowded,” he added.
Many prisons in Syrian Kurdish-controlled areas, where much of the former IS “army” is held, were originally schools and therefore ill-suited to hold inmates for long periods of time.
According to Kurdish authorities, who control large areas of northern Syria, some 12,000 jihadists of more than 50 nationalities are being held in prisons under their control.
Abdelkarim Omar, senior foreign policy official in the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration, said the IS attack on Ghwayran prison was due to “the international community’s failure to assume its responsibilities”.
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.
The conflict has killed around 500,000 people, devastated the country’s infrastructure and displaced millions of people since its outbreak.