Middle East

IS conflict: Manbij residents celebrate liberation

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Media captionFootage from Kurdistan 24 shows people in Manbij celebrating their freedom

Residents in the northern Syrian city of Manbij have been celebrating new freedoms after being liberated from the rule of so-called Islamic State.

They have poured into the streets enjoying basic rights they had been denied for two years, including shaving off their beards and smoking.

US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters fought 73 days to drive IS out of Manbij, close to the Turkish border.

About 2,000 civilians being used as human shields were also freed.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A woman is shown smoking - one of many interdictions under IS
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption One happy evacuee could be seen having his beard cut off
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption This woman decided to burn her niqab to mark the end of IS rule
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many Manbij residents shed tears of joy after being liberated

Reuters news agency spoke to a resident of Manbij who described a spot where people were beheaded. "For anything or using the excuse that he did not believe [in God], they put him and cut his head off.

"It is all injustice," he said.

"I feel joy and [it is like a] dream I am dreaming. I cannot believe it, I cannot believe it. Things I saw no one saw," a woman said screaming and fainting, according to Reuters.

Another woman thanked the fighters that had set them free: "You are our children, you are our heroes, you are the blood of our hearts, you are our eyes. Go out, Daesh [Arabic name for IS]!"

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A woman from Manbij hugs a female SDF fighter after the city was liberated
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The male and female soldiers of the SDF had fought for more than two months to take the city

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Move on Raqqa?

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia. They were backed in their campaign against IS by US-led air strikes on IS positions.

The roads through Manbij had become crucial to the group's ability to move fighters, weapons and supplies in and out of Syria.

Routes to Syria's embattled second city, Aleppo, and to the IS capital, Raqqa, pass through the town.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from the UK, around 500 cars left Manbij carrying IS members and civilians.

They were heading north-east towards Jarablus, a town under IS control on the Turkish border.

The militias said their victory had cut off the IS militants' route to Europe.

"After the liberation of Manbij, IS members won't be able to freely travel to and from Europe anymore," said Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim.

US officials have said that after Manbij, the coalition's intention is to move on Raqqa.

Raqqa, estimated to have a population of between 250,000 and 500,000, has become the de facto capital of the "caliphate" whose creation was proclaimed by IS two years ago after it took control of large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

In addition to the alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by the US, IS militants are also under pressure from Russian-backed Syrian government forces. Two days ago, Russian air strikes cut off the city's water supply.