HASAKEH: Fighting raged for a third day Saturday between the Islamic State group and Kurdish forces in Syria after IS attacked a prison housing jihadists, with the violence killing nearly 90, a monitor said.
The assault on the Ghwayran prison in the northern city of Hasakeh is one of IS’s most significant since its “caliphate” was declared defeated in Syria nearly three years ago.
“At least 28 members of the Kurdish security forces, five civilians and 56 members of IS have been killed” in the violence, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
IS launched the attack on Thursday night against the prison housing at least 3,500 suspected members of the jihadist group, including some of its leaders, the Observatory said.
The jihadists “seized weapons they found” in the detention centre and freed several fellow IS fighters, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside war-torn Syria for its information.
Hundreds of jihadist inmates had since been recaptured but dozens were still believed to be on the loose, it added.
With the backing of US-led coalition aircraft, Kurdish security forces have encircled the prison and are battling to retake full control of surrounding neighbourhoods, which jihadists have used as a launching pad for their attacks.
The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday said “fierce clashes” broke out in neighbourhoods north of Ghwayran, where it carried out raids and killed more than 20 IS fighters.
It said it seized explosive belts, weapons and artillery held by jihadists.
An AFP correspondent saw Kurdish fighters raiding homes in the flashpoint area near the jail in search of militants while coalition helicopters flew overhead.
In one location, Kurdish fighters gathered around five bloodied corpses of suspected IS fighters that had been placed along the roadside, the correspondent said.
The battles have triggered a civilian exodus from neighbourhoods around Ghwayran, with families fleeing for a third consecutive day in the harsh winter cold as Kurdish forces closed in on IS targets.
“Thousands have left their homes near the prison, fleeing to nearby areas where their relatives live,” Sheikhmous Ahmed, an official in the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration, told AFP.
But not all the displaced had a safe haven.
“We don’t know where we are going,” said Abu Anas, who was forced out of his home on Saturday.
“We have no one but God,” he told AFP as he walked out of his neighbourhood with his wife and four children.
IS has carried out regular attacks against Kurdish and government targets in Syria since the rump of its once-sprawling proto-state was overrun in March 2019.
Most of their guerrilla attacks have been against military targets and oil installations in remote areas, but the Hasakeh prison break could mark a new phase in the group’s resurgence.