Clashes rock Syria’s Manbij as ISIL ignores ultimatum
BEIRUTThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants clashed on July 23 with U.S.-backed fighters in the Syrian town of Manbij, pursuing their fierce defense of the jihadist stronghold and ignoring a deadline to leave.
There are growing fears for the fate of civilians trapped in Manbij, formerly a key stop along ISIL’s supply route from neighboring Turkey into its self-styled Islamic “caliphate” in Syria.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) penetrated the town one month ago but have since been hindered by a bloody ISIL counter-offensive amid concerns about civilians.
On July 23, ISIL jihadists appeared to ignore a 48-hour ultimatum to leave issued by the Manbij Military Council, a key SDF member.
“The 48-hour period is over, and there will be no more opportunities like this one for Daesh [ISIL],” a commander from the council told AFP on condition of anonymity.
ISIL has “not responded” to the SDF’s offer and instead “attacked our positions,” he said.
The ultimatum came after at least 56 civilians, including children, were reportedly killed July 19 in U.S.-led coalition air strikes near Manbij.
The commander pledged that his forces would “intensify our attacks on their remaining positions.”
The council’s spokesman, Sherfan Darwish, stressed in an online statement July 23 that SDF forces in Manbij “are committed to securing safe passage to the best of their ability for any civilian able to flee Daesh’s brutality.”
Meanwhile, air raids have hit four makeshift hospitals in Syria’s battered Aleppo city, doctors said July 24, jeopardizing medical care for more than 200,000 desperate civilians in rebel-held areas.
The bombardment since July 23 has worsened the plight of residents of besieged eastern neighborhoods of Syria’s second city, where food and medical supplies are becoming increasingly scarce.
The hospitals, as well as a blood bank that was hit, were located in the Al-Shaar neighborhood, said the Independent Doctor’s Association, a group of Syrian doctors that supports clinics in Aleppo.
It said a two-day-old baby was killed in the children’s hospital when his oxygen supply was cut after a raid during the early hours of July 24.
It was the second strike on the same hospital in about nine hours, according to the IDA.
“After the second strike, we had to move him [the baby] downstairs to the bomb shelter, and that’s why he died,” said Malika, the head nurse at the children’s hospital.
“The hospital is severely damaged and it’s not the first time,” she said, in online conversations with IDA representatives seen by AFP.