As ISIL holds on to last Syrian foothold, upwards of 25,000 civilians flee battlefield for ‘Camp of Death’

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria — The mother sobbed uncontrollably as she carried her newborn child to the manager of the muddy and windswept camp in northeast Syria. The young Syrian woman tried desperately to explain that the child was just 11 days old and had become suddenly unwell.

“This is no place to bring life into the world,” she said, holding the tiny swaddled infant up to a gas fire. The boy had turned pale, she said, and was struggling to breathe.

She had to wait awhile before she was issued a permission slip to take him to the medical point, during which time his condition, which appeared to be hypothermia, had worsened dramatically.

The look in her eyes — the only thing visible through her black abaya — suggested she knew her son was about to become a statistic.

Since December, some 25,000 people have fled the fighting in the last of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) territory in Deir Ezzor province, nearly triple what aid agencies had been prepared for.

On the weekend, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched its final push to eliminate ISIL fighters holed up in the village of Baghouz, near the border with Iraq.

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Islamic State extremists cornered in their last foothold in eastern Syria fought back with suicide car bombs, snipers and booby traps Monday, slowing Kurdish fighters’ advances.

No one knows exactly how many ISIL fighters are still holding out in the sliver of territory under attack, although they are estimated to be in the hundreds, most of them foreign fighters. It is also unclear if civilians are still inside, caught under heavy bombardment.

But trucks and civilians continue to flee the area, overwhelming the Kurdish-run camps where humanitarian conditions are already dire amid a cold winter and meagre resources.

Conditions are so bad that in the past two months 35 children have died from cold or malnutrition, either in or on their way to al-Hol, earning it the nickname the “Camp of Death.”

Two Canadian women were among the civilians fleeing the area.

Displaced people
at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria on Feb. 6, 2019.

Dura Ahmed, 28, from Toronto, was studying English and Middle Eastern studies in Canada when her husband persuaded her to travel to Syria.

“My husband came here first in 2012,” she told CNN. “He tried to convince me for two years to come, but I said no, no, I don’t want to. Then finally he said you have to come, but I was studying.”

The mother of two boys eventually travelled to the city of Raqqa.

“It was an easy life. It was a city. It was stable,” she said. “You’re there and you’re eating Pringles and Twix bars. You’re just there. You don’t feel like you’re in a war.”

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Source:: Nationalpost – News


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