Islamic State fighters holed up in one of the militant group’s last major strongholds in northern Syria
have 48 hours to leave the city, according to an ultimatum issued by the local military council of the United States
-supported Syria Democratic Forces.
The two-day window opened after the main Syrian exile opposition group called on the coalition to halt its bombing of militant positions near the city of Manbij after dozens of civilians were reported killed this week in airstrikes by the United States-led coalition.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, based in Britain
, has reported that more than 100 civilians have died in airstrikes in the area since late May, when militias supported by the United States and its coalition partners in Syria began an offensive to seize Manbij from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
On Tuesday, the observatory reported that airstrikes north of Manbij killed at least 56 civilians, including 11 children. A day before, 21 people were killed in raids in the area also believed to have been conducted by coalition aircraft in Manbij.
Kurdish and Arab forces, aided by the airstrikes, have surrounded the city, but have been unable to fully dislodge the Islamic State from the area.
A statement from the Manbij Military Council posted on the Syria Democratic Forces online chat room said that Islamic State fighters, who have been using civilians in Manbij as human shields, will have 48 hours to leave the city with only their light weapons before bombings resume.
The president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a political exile group that opposes both the Islamic State and the Syrian government, said that airstrikes should be halted to allow for an investigation into the reported civilian deaths in and around Manbij.
“We believe that such incidents indicate a major loophole in the current operational rules followed by the international coalition in conducting strikes in populated areas,” Anas Alabdah, the president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, said in a letter to the foreign ministers of the countries participating in the military coalition.
He also warned that Syrians besieged by the Islamic State and others besieged by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are suffering, and additional civilian deaths “will only push them further into a spiral of despair and, more importantly, will prove to be a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations.”
In a statement, a United States military spokesman, Col. Christopher Garver of the Army, said that the American-led coalition forces had conducted airstrikes near Manbij recently, and that the Pentagon was aware of reports of civilian casualties.
“As with any allegation we receive, we will review any information we have about the incident, including information provided by third parties,” Colonel Garver said in the statement. He also said that if it turns out that coalition operations have endangered civilians, “we will then determine the next appropriate step.”
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency had reported on Tuesday that the airstrikes that killed civilians in Manbij may have been carried out by French forces participating in the coalition, and the Syrian Foreign Ministry called on the United Nations secretary general and the Security Council to condemn the coalition strikes.