Dhe reports of success from Hassakeh were premature. On Wednesday afternoon, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) said that the prison in the northeast Syrian city of Hassakeh, which had been at the center of fierce fighting with extremists from “Islamic State” (IS) for days, was completely under control . On Thursday morning, the SDF reported that dozens of IS extremists had hidden themselves in a remote part of the facility, a former trade school.
Independent observers in the battlefield also reported fierce gun battles in the vicinity of the prison that broke out in the morning. Apparently other IS fighters were hiding in the surrounding districts. According to SDF information, more than 3,500 of the IS extremists who were in the prison were arrested again. It is difficult to independently verify information from the conflict zone. The tightly run Kurdish autonomous administration, whose cadres are followers of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, also strictly monitors its information sovereignty. The number of IS extremists killed and escaped remained unclear on Thursday.
Aid organization Care stops work
Meanwhile, the escalation of violence in Hassakeh and the increasing threat from IS are exacerbating the humanitarian situation in north-east Syria. According to the UN, tens of thousands of people in Hassakeh, home to countless internally displaced persons, had to flee to other parts of the city. The aid organization Care announced on Thursday that it was forced to temporarily stop its work in north-eastern Syria because the safety of its own employees and local partners could not be guaranteed at the moment. Millions of people there suffered from an immense economic crisis, the corona pandemic, the winter cold and snowstorms, it said in a statement. “They lack medical care, drinking water and food.”
There is also concern about the fate of hundreds of underage IS supporters or children of IS extremists who are being held in Hassakeh prison. According to the SDF, the jihadists used minors as human shields. A worker for the human rights organization Human Rights Watch said during the recapture campaign that she had received voice messages from a 17-year-old Australian man, who said he had been injured himself and had seen others being killed. Others, identified as 18-year-old men from Canada and the United States, begged for rescue, water, medicine and food. However, it is also unclear how many of the minors had taken part in previous combat operations. Likewise, whether all minors were hostages, or whether some participated in the current fighting.
According to the UN children’s fund Unicef, almost 850 minors are being held in north-east Syria, some as young as 12, most in the war-torn prison in Hassakeh. The vast majority are from Syria and Iraq, with the remainder belonging to 20 other nationalities. “None of them have been charged with a crime under national or international law. The children of foreign nationals have received little to no support from their home countries,” said UNICEF Director-General Henriaetta Fore.