Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders have brokered a deal to evacuate civilians from the city, the U.S.-led Coalition confirmed in a Saturday, October 14 press release.
A convoy of vehicles will leave Raqqa later on Saturday, in an arrangement designed to minimise civilian casualties as Syrian Democratic Forces close in on the remaining parts of the city still held by Islamic State, the release said.
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, but it did not specify if local ISIS fighters are included in the arrangement.
“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.
ISIS fighters surrender
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.
“They sent a message to the Raqqa Civil Council and to the tribal mediators,” the official said. “Those that surrendered are local, not foreigners – the foreigners have not handed themselves in yet,” he said.
Activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently tweeted that dozens of buses entered Raqqa overnight. The UK-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had already left the city, and the buses were to evacuate foreign fighters and their families.
An SDF military source told AFP that vehicles were waiting near the city and would take fighters who surrendered to Deir Ezzor province.
Coalition opposed agreement
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.”
Braga added that they remain concerned about civilians who remain in Raqqa, saying that ISIS fighter shide behind women and children and that the Coalition is “against any arrangement that lets them continue to do so.”
“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think [ISIS] will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” Dillon told Reuters.