Life under ISIS.. Civilians speak out

ARA News 

MANBIJ – Civilians in Manbij countryside, whose villages have been liberated from ISIS, have expressed their joy with the victories of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the change that came along with this liberation. 

According to the citizens, life with the rules and regulations of the Islamic State (ISIS) was unbearable in Manbij countryside.

“We have never seen security and safety to move between Manbij areas during the reign of ISIS here,” said Fatma Marea, 44, a resident of Um Mayyal village in Manbij countryside. “They have been forcing us to wear burqa and cover our eyes and hands, and those who would violate such instructions were being mercilessly punished by ISIS,” she told ARA News.  

Civilians in this area have suffered shortage of basic supplies and deteriorating living conditions for years under ISIS.

“Basic supplies were barely available. Our children have suffered starvation,” Marea said.

“Before being liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces, our life was very difficult due to ISIS atrocities against our people,” said Ahmed Abdullah, 47. “Now, after the guys [SDF members] have come, our situation seems much better, especially the security.”

“Under ISIS control we had no electricity and bread became very expensive. Imagine we had to pay 350-360 lira for one bread bundle, while now after the SDF have come the bread costs just 35 lira,” Abdullah told ARA News in Manbij countryside.

Jihadis Raping Women Before Withdrawal 

Extremists of the Islamic State (ISIS) have raped dozens of Syrian women in the countryside of Manbij in the northern Aleppo province, local sources and activists reported.

Before their withdrawal from the countryside of Manbij under heavy bombardment by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), ISIS jihadis broke into civilians’ houses in dozens of villages around Manbij, killing the men and raping the women.

“Over more than two years of their control over Manbij, ISIS jihadis were generally careful with their behaviour towards the people in a bid to gain popular support. However, since the SDF troops started their campaign and made gains against the Islamic State, the group’s members in Manbij started punishing civilians collectively after accusing them of supporting the US-backed SDF,” media activist Nassir Taljbini told ARA News in Manbij. “They have killed hundreds of men and raped dozens of women in the past few days, especially in the western countryside of Manbij, before withdrawing from most of the villages there.”

One of the victims who spoke to ARA News under the name Um Mohamed said that ISIS militants broke into their house, killed her husband and raped her and her two daughters. “They entered the house like barbarians. They shot my husband and raped me and my daughters. We’re still in shock after what happened. I have nothing to say to describe it… a nightmare,” she said.

Eyewitnesses told ARA News that ISIS militants also burned a number of houses in Manbij western villages before withdrawing. 

“It was like an act of revenge against the people of the area,” a villager of Oum Mayyal said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

The Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated about 105 villages in Manbij countryside over the past weeks. The fighting has now moved to the city of Manbij, the last stronghold of ISIS in the district. 

Human Shields 

In the meantime, the head of the SDF-led Manbij Military Council, Adnan Abu Amjad, said that since the beginning of the battle for Manbij on 31 May, the SDF troops were able to hit the first defence-line of the ISIS terror group.

“ISIS is currently under complete siege by our forces inside the city of Manbij. However, there are some obstacles facing us, including the ISIS use of civilians as human shields, which affects the performance of our troops,” the Kurdish commander told ARA News. 

“What has been interrupting our progress towards the city of Manbij is that ISIS terrorists try to use civilians as human shields,” he said. “However, our forces have liberated more than 1000km of land from ISIS in the countryside of Manbij. Also, more than a thousand ISIS terrorists have been killed and injured so far in the battle for Manbij.” 

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and allied Manbij Military Council (MMC) have imposed a siege on strongholds of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the city of Manbij in northern Syria, after cutting off all ISIS supply lines around the city, which might indicate that the western-backed Kurdish-led SDF and allied MMC would soon liberate the entire city of Manbij from ISIS.

The SDF and MMC have liberated the whole countryside of Manbij from ISIS, while preparations continue to storm the final headquarters of ISIS in the city centre. The US-led coalition’s air cover has reportedly played a key role in enabling the ground troops to advance against the jihadi group.

The US-backed Syrian forces stressed that they’ll liberate the city and provide protection to all civilians.

The SDF accused ISIS group of using civilians as human shields, saying that was the reason for the careful steps they’ve been taking against the group during the clashes in the vicinity of Manbij city.

Speaking to ARA News, SDF officer Khalil Kobani said: “We are in the village of Kabra at the moment, only 4km separate us from ISIS. Those silos are right in the city of Manbij, so we’re very near to our final target. As Syrian Democratic Forces, we are ready and fully prepared to liberate Manbij from ISIS and protect the civilians.”

Route to Safety 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tuesday opened a humanitarian corridor between the ISIS-held city of Manbij and its countryside, in a bid to help civilians evacuate the war-torn city. 

Backed by the US-led coalition’s air cover, the SDF recaptured the entire countryside of Manbij from ISIS militants subsequent to heavy fighting. More than 105 villages were liberated since the SDF launched a battle for Manbij on 31 May, 2016. However, the group is still in control of the city of Manbij and has been using civilians as human shields in the fighting against the SDF. 

“After capturing western parts of the city, our forces have opened a humanitarian corridor between the city and its liberated countryside in order to assist civilians to evacuate the city so that we can continue with our operations against ISIS terrorists inside Manbij city,” SDF officer Habun Osman told ARA News. 

Hundreds of civilians were able to escape the besieged city of Manbij, using the corridor opened by the SDF west of the city. 

“The safety of civilians is a top priority for us at the moment, otherwise we would have already liberated the entire Manbij border pocket from ISIS,” the SDF official said. “So, now we are trying to rescue the stranded civilians and prevent the terror group from using them as human shields during the clashes. Then we’ll attack ISIS in its final stronghold in Manbij downtown.”  

The 98-kilometer-long border area in Aleppo’s countryside is called the Manbij pocket, and is used by the Islamic State group (ISIS) to transport foreign fighters from Turkey to Syria, and to smuggle arm supplies to the de-facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, in northeastern Syria. Also, the extremist group has used the Manbij pocket to send trained jihadis abroad to conduct terrorist attacks. Closing it down would make Europe and America safer, US and Kurdish officials have said.

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