At least 10 trucks carrying men, women and children left the Islamic State group’s last redoubt in eastern Syria on Wednesday, in a sign a final assault may be approaching.
The convoy passed a position of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces after leaving the last IS holdout in the village of Baghouz, near the Iraqi border.
Correspondents at the SDF staging point outside Baghouz saw children, including young girls wearing veils, inside the trucks with men and veiled women.
“We have special forces working on the evacuation of civilians. After many days of trying, we were able to evacuate the first batch today,” SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said.
The spokesman said he did not have accurate figures on the number of people evacuated, but said that this would become clearer once the convoy arrived at a nearby SDF screening point for arrivals from the IS-held pocket.
“We don’t know if IS fighters are among them, we will know at the screening point,” he said.
“There are still civilians inside” the Baghouz pocket, he added.
Thousands of people — mostly women and children related to jihadist fighters — have streamed out of IS territory in recent weeks, but the flow largely stopped in recent days, with just dozens reported to have left.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the SDF appeared to have reached a deal with the jihadists.
Backed by air strikes by a US-led coalition, the SDF have trapped the jihadists in a section of Baghouz village that is less than half a square kilometre (a fifth of a square mile).
The SDF have slowed down their offensive as they seek to evacuate civilians before a final push to defeat the jihadists, who seized swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and declared a cross-border caliphate.