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IS fighters escaping detention due to Turkish offensive, Kurds say, warning more will follow

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Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters walk together near the border town of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 12, 2019.
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters walk together near the border town of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 12, 2019. -
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The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Euronews on Saturday that fighters from the so-called Islamic State (IS) had escaped from detention following the Turkish military incursion into northern Syria.

"The Turkish army shelling targeted a number of jails such as Tcharkin jail — west of Qamishli," Hikmat Habib, a member of the presidential body of the Syrian Democratic Council — the SDF's political arm — told Euronews via Skype, warning that at least five detainees at escape.

The Kurdish official also warned that SDF fighters may soon " be obliged to leave" their posts at the detention camps "in order to protect their own families" which could result in further break-outs.

"We are still securing jails hosting IS fighters but if this war continues we will be obliged to gather all forces to protect our land and families from this terror.

"We did not play the IS card to exert pressure on the international community. On the contrary, we think that these fighters should stand a fair trial, be it here or their respective countries repatriate them. But this did not happen," he added.

On Sunday morning, the Kurdish-led authorities said more than 780 foreigners affiliated to IS had escaped from a camp. SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali shared a picture on Twitter purported to show suspected IS fighters escaping the Ain Isa detention camp.

Watch Euronews' interview with Hikmat Habib in the player above.

'Repatriation, prosecution and rehabilitation'

The international community have widely condemned Ankara's offensive into northern Syria which primarily targets Western-backed Kurdish forces which were instrumental in dismantling IS's caliphate over Syria and Iraq.

They have also raised concerns over the fate of the estimated 90,000 people detained in jails and camps in the area including suspected IS fighters and their families. At least 12,000 of them are believed to be foreign nationals.

Turkey, which recognises two domestic SDF-affiliated Kurdish political groups as terror organisations, says the offensive is to create a "safe zone" along the border to relocate the more than three million refugees it is currently hosting.

READ MORE: France and Germany halt arms export to Turkey over incursion into northern Syria

In a statement on Saturday, the Foreign Affairs ministry said that the country "will take over custody of Daesh [another name for IS] elements and their families members" held in jails and camps.

It added that it is "ready to work together with the countries of origin and international organisations for the rehabilitation of spouses and children who have not been involved in crimes committed by foreign terrorist fighters affiliated with Daesh".

"On the other hand, it should be acknowledged that the sustainable solution to this issue is repatriation, prosecution and rehabilitation by countries of origin of all foreign terrorist fighters and their families detained in Syria. We attach utmost importance to the joint efforts of the international community in this regard," it went on.

'Heavy and violent shelling'

Very few foreign nationals have so far been repatriated to their country of origins. The issue lies with the fact that international law dictates that only people responsible for crimes can be punished following a fair trial to determine individual guilt.

But it is difficult for Western countries to prove that suspected fighters took part in combat. As for women, they were not allowed on the frontline by IS but may have helped in the background but proving this is even more difficult.

Western governments fear that they may not be able to detain them after repatriation and that they will join or establish sleeper cells capable of unleashing home-grown deadly terror attacks.

READ MORE: Families of IS fighters in Syria hope Turkish offensive offers way out

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday that Turkish troops and the Syrian rebels loyal to them had seized control over the border town of Sluk in a "fierce attack" conducted "under a cover of heavy firepower".

The UK-based monitor group added, however, that SDF had regained control over Ras al-Ain, another border town about 100km east of Sluk, "amid an exchange of heavy and violent shelling."

It estimated that 85 SDF fighters had lost their lives, as well as 76 Syrian rebels aligned with Turkey and 8 Turkish soldiers.

Thirty civilian casualties were reported on Saturday with the UN also warning that more than 130,000 people had already been displaced and that the water supply in some areas "is rapidly deteriorating, and becoming critical".

Read more:

Civilian death toll rises to 30 in Syria following Turkey's military offensive, says monitor

Johnson 'urges' Erdogan to end Turkish operation in Syria during call

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