Islamic State fighters are set evacuate Raqqa or surrender to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces under a deal reached with Arab tribal elders and Raqqa Civil Council, according to multiple reports.
In a statement published late on Saturday, October 14, tribal leaders from Raqqa said that after an appeal to the SDF, an agreement was reached to allow local ISIS fighters to leave Raqqa and the tribes would “ensure their exit into areas outside the city.”
The statement said the militants remaining were “a small number besieged in one or more positions in the city, who have no choice but surrender or death”. It did not mention foreign fighters.
The elders said they were arranging a “mechanism” for them to leave, and they would protect those taken as human shields, reiterating that they “will ensure the lives of those who will be removed.”
Senior official told me Arab tribes trying to convince ISIS to surrender, but Daesh want exit (1)
— Wladimir (@vvanwilgenburg) October 14, 2017
SDF spokesperson Talal Silo told Reuters that foreign fighters would either “surrender or die”, but did not say when Syrian ISIS militants would leave.
Alloush said up to 500 ISIS fighters remained in Raqqa. “They have 400 hostages with them – women and children – in the national hospital,” he said.
Earlier, Coalition spokesperson Colonel Ryan Dillon told Reuters that around 100 ISIS fighters had surrendered in the previous 24 hours and were “removed from the city.”
A Raqqa official told AFP that Syrian ISIS militants surrendered to the SDF. “Those that surrendered are local, not foreigners – the foreigners have not handed themselves in yet,” he said.
Buses arrive in Raqqa
Deals to allow ISIS militants to withdraw have been negotiated in the past, and usually see convoys of buses employed to transport them.
Activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently tweeted that dozens of buses entered Raqqa overnight Friday. An SDF military source told AFP that vehicles were waiting near the city and would take fighters who surrendered to Deir Ezzor province.
ISIS fighters and their families evacuated an area on the Syrian-Lebanese border in August in a deal with Hizbollah and Syria. As the convoy of buses approached Deir Ezzor Coalition aircraft cratered roads to stop it and attacked nearby ISIS vehicles and personnel.
A similar deal was reached between the SDF and ISIS at the Tabqa dam in May. Coalition aircraft reportedly bombed and strafed a convoy of ISIS vehicles that left the area after the deal was secured.
Coalition says deal is for civilian evacuation
Earlier on Saturday, a Coalition press release said that the deal was to evacuate civilians from the city.
The release said the deal brokered on Thursday “purportedly excludes foreign Daesh terrorists” and that people leaving the city will be screened by the SDF.
“The Coalition was not involved in the discussions that led to the arrangement, but believes it will save innocent lives,” the release said, adding that it will mean a reduced risk of civilian casualties.
Coalition Director of Operations Brigadier General Jonathan Braga said: “We do not condone any arrangement that allows Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqah without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else.”