U.S.-backed Syrian forces reject ISIS request for safe passage to Turkey

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main U.S.-backed ground troops fighting Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, have rejected an appeal from the extreme jihadist group for its remaining fighters to be given safe passage to Turkey, an SDF spokesman said.

The SDF has slowed its military operations around Baghouz, a village in the ISIS-controlled Deir al-Zor area of eastern Syria, to take control of the area without endangering civilians, the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported.

Mustafa Bali, the head of SDF media centre, said ISIS had been using local residents as human shields to slow SDF operations and tried to use them as a bargaining chip, sending a group of smugglers to negotiate with the SDF.

ISIS asked for safe passage to Turkey, or the last rebel stronghold, Bali said. But the operation "will go on until the last terrorist is dead", he said.

Thousands of people have fled ISIS-held territory since early December. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates 30,550 people of many different nationalities have fled, “including about 2,770” ISIS members who had hidden themselves among the civilian population.