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Syrian fighters set deadline for IS gunmen to surrender

BEIRUT (AP) – United States (US)-backed Kurdish-led fighters searched on Friday near a Syrian prison for Islamic State (IS) group militants and gave an ultimatum to dozens of armed extremists holed up in a small part of the jail to surrender or face an all-out attack, a Kurdish official said.

About a half-dozen IS fighters surrendered on Friday morning, among scores of militants hiding in a basement in the northern section of the prison, according to a spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Siamand Ali.

He would not confirm or deny a report by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, that SDF fighters discovered the bodies of 18 of their comrades inside Gweiran prison, also known as al-Sinaa prison, in northeast Syria on Friday.

The IS group’s January 20 attack on the prison was the biggest military operation by the extremist group since the fall of their self-declared caliphate in 2019. It came as the militants staged deadly attacks in both Syria and Iraq that stoked fears that IS may be staging a comeback.

The weeklong assault on one of the largest detention facilities in Syria has turned the city of Hassakeh into a conflict zone. The Kurdish-led administration declared a curfew and sealed off the city, barring movement in and out.

Thousands of people in Hassakeh were displaced in recent days because of the fighting. The SDF claimed on Wednesday it had regained full control of the prison – a week after scores of militants overran the facility. The attackers allowed some to escape but also took hostages, including child detainees, and clashed with SDF fighters in violence that killed dozens.

The SDF had said that between 60 and 90 militants were hiding out in the northern section of the prison.

Ali said the militants are in the basement of a two-storey building and that those who remain inside are refusing to surrender.

“Our units are surrounding the building and are trying to convince them to surrender,” he said.

“We gave them a deadline and we are besieging them,” Ali said by telephone from Hassakeh. He refused to say when the ultimatum ends and the attack begins, for security reasons.

A Syrian Democratic Forces soldier talks on a radio in Hassakeh, northeast Syria. PHOTO: AP