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Kurdish Authorities Release 324 Syrian Nationals From al-Hol Camp


FILE - Women and children gather in front their tents at al-Hol camp, which houses 60,000 refugees, including families and supporters of the Islamic State group, many of them foreign nationals, in Hasakeh province, Syria, May 1, 2021.

Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria have released 324 Syrian nationals from a refugee camp that houses thousands of people, including families of Islamic State fighters.

The released Syrians left the al-Hol camp Wednesday, local officials said, adding that they were mostly women and children.

“The decision to release these individuals, who made up 92 families, came after we verified their documents and identities,” said Mounir Mohammad, an al-Hol camp official.

He told VOA on Wednesday that this was the 18th group of Syrian nationals to leave the camp since the U.S.-led campaign that destroyed IS’s so-called caliphate in March 2019.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that has been a major U.S. partner in the war on IS in Syria, detained thousands of IS fighters and their families when it seized the terror group’s last stronghold in Syria in the 2019 campaign.

According to camp officials, there are about 62,000 people still living in al-Hol, including nearly 22,000 Syrian nationals. About 30,000 of those living in the camp are Iraqi refugees.

1,600 families released

Mohammad said 1,600 Syrian families had been allowed to leave the camp so far; he did not say how many individuals had been released. In May, 95 Iraqi families were released from the camp and sent back to Iraq.

Rasha Al Aqeedi, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, said the timing of this week’s release was “interesting, given recent comments by SDF leadership that [IS] attacks in Syria have escalated and that the majority of those in the camp are supporters or at least sympathizers.”

“It’s unclear how much vetting was done for these Syrians, but it looks like a goodwill gesture from SDF leaders toward non-Kurds, unless there has been a deal of some sort that we’re not aware of,” she told VOA.

Local authorities said they were hopeful that reducing al-Hol’s population would help diminish the violence plaguing the camp. The United Nations says at least 70 people have been killed in al-Hol this year.

Two killings

This week, two female Iraqi refugees, aged 18 and 23, were killed in separate incidents carried out by unknown gunmen inside the camp, the Kurdish Red Crescent reported.

The SDF says IS has operatives in the camp who are responsible for the violence. The Kurdish-led military group says these operatives coordinate with IS militants who are still active in parts of eastern Syria.

SDF fighters, with the help of the U.S.-led global coalition, arrested an IS leader Wednesday in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. The militant reportedly was responsible for funding and recruiting operatives.

This story originated in VOA’s Kurdish Service.

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