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Death toll in Syrian prison standoff tops 150

UNICEF calls for protection of some 850 minors detained inside the prison, some as young as 12, warning they could be ‘harmed or forcibly recruited’ by IS

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighters take their positions at the defense wall of Gweiran Prison in Hassakeh, northeast Syria, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022 (AP Photo/Hogir Al Abdo)
Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighters take their positions at the defense wall of Gweiran Prison in Hassakeh, northeast Syria, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022 (AP Photo/Hogir Al Abdo)

HASAKEH, Syria — Kurdish forces locked down a Syrian city Monday to trap Islamic State group fighters who attacked a prison there five days earlier, leaving more than 150 dead in fierce battles.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) charged that the IS militants were using hundreds of minors as “human shields” inside the Ghwayran prison in the northeastern city of Hasakeh.

The UN childrens’ agency UNICEF called for the protection of some 850 minors detained inside the jail, some as young as 12, warning that they could be “harmed or forcibly recruited” by the IS.

More than 100 IS fighters late Thursday stormed Ghwayran prison using suicide truck bombs and heavy weapons, setting off days of clashes both inside the facility and in surrounding neighborhoods.

The fighting died down Sunday evening as the US-backed SDF consolidated control over areas around the jail and declared the entire city locked down for a week.

“To prevent terrorist cells from escaping… the Kurdish administration in northeast Syria announces a complete lockdown on areas inside and outside Hasakeh city for a period of seven days starting on January 24,” the administration said.

This photo provided by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces shows the flag of the Islamic State and and bags taken from fighters who were arrested by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces after IS militants attacked Gweiran Prison, in Hassakeh, northeast Syria, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022 (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, via AP, File)

Businesses were ordered to close with the exception of essential services, such as medical centers, bakeries and fuel distribution centers.

Civilians were hunkering down Monday in their homes as Kurdish fighters backed by the US-led coalition combed the area for hideout jihadists, said an AFP correspondent.

The SDF erected several checkpoints at the entrances to Hasakeh, with even tighter security measures imposed in neighborhoods adjacent to the jail, the correspondent said.

The SDF said in a statement its advances inside the prison where stymied by the use of hundreds of minors as “human shields” by IS jihadists holed up in a dormitory.

The group said the adolescents, who had been detained over suspected links to IS, were being kept in a “rehabilitation center” in the jail.

The Britain-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that a precarious lull in fighting continued to hold, as holdout jihadists were refusing to surrender.

The group raised the death toll from the clashes to 154 killed since Thursday, including 102 jihadists, 45 Kurdish fighters and seven civilians.

In other parts of Syria’s northeast under the administration’s control, a nighttime curfew was set to go into force Monday from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m.

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