Angry civilians evacuating the last territory held by Islamic State militants in Syria have been praising the extremist group.
There were no signs of combat to allow for evacuations from the IS-held pocket in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.
Associated Press journalists positioned across from the IS-held pocket saw lines of trucks, motorcycles and people walking on foot, in what appeared to be a group evacuating.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the group spearheading the fight against IS in Syria, has been applying a combination of military force to put pressure on the militants who refuse to surrender, followed by pauses to allow for the evacuation of civilians.
Thousands of people have streamed out of Baghouz in the last few days under a stepped-up assault by the US-led coalition and their ground partners.
The latest wave of evacuations brings the final defeat of IS by the Kurdish-led SDF a step closer — a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to defeat the group’s so-called “caliphate” that once covered a vast territory straddling both Syria and Iraq.
On Wednesday, a group of women seen at a reception area set up in the desert, where they were screened by SDF officials, were rowdy, aggressive and defiant, praising the Islamic State group and screaming angrily at journalists. One woman raised her shoe in their direction.
A 30-year-old Iraqi woman said her one-month-old baby, who was sick, died overnight in the reception area from the cold.
“I didn’t want to leave except to treat her,” the woman who identified herself as Um Fatima said. She cursed the SDF and said: “The Islamic state will remain and expand, God willing,” and walked away.
Many among those leaving appeared to be wives and children of IS militants.