A civil council in Syria’s Raqqa has pardoned 83 captured ISIL fighters, in what it said was a goodwill gesture designed to promote stability as the fighting to recapture the city from the armed group intensifies.
The council, which is expected to rule Raqqa once ISIL is dislodged from its self-proclaimed capital, said on Saturday that the pardoned fighters were low-ranking members and were not involved with violence.
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The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have gained significant ground in the battle for Raqqa, the operational base for ISIL over the past three years.
Senior SDF figures predict Raqqa could fall within months.
The youngest of the prisoners pardoned was 14 years old, according to the Reuters news agency.
They were transported to the headquarters of the Raqqa City Council in the village of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, in an amnesty coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
‘No senior posts’
Leila Mustafa, co-leader of the council, read out a speech saying the prisoners released had no blood on their hands and held no senior posts.
Syria has been locked in a multi-sided civil war for more than six years involving regional powers and a US-led coalition whose air raids put ISIL on the defensive.
“We would never release senior Daesh officials or anyone who has blood on their hands,” senior council member Omar Aloush told Reuters, using an Arabic term for ISIL. “We are giving these men a second chance.”
Speaking on the street outside the council, he told pardoned ISIL members, some of whom had surrendered, that they would be integrated into society and given a chance to attend schools.
“This amnesty is a sign that Syrians are already looking ahead to a time when ISIL does not rule Raqqa,” Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting for the Turkish city of Gaziantep bordering Syria, said.
Several young ISIL members, like 17-year-old Kays al-Hadi, provided a simple explanation on why they joined the armed group.
“There were no opportunities before they arrived,” he said, according to Reuters.
Abdel Rahman Kalas, 43, who worked in the ISIL department that imposed taxes on Raqqa citizens, said: “I have seven children. I had no choice but to cooperate. They paid me $115 a month.”
The amnesty may be one small step towards easing tensions that run deep in Raqqa after three years of ruthless ISIL occupation, followed by war.
“Going forward, the hope is that an amnesty like this will help to restrict the fabric of society that has ripped Syria apart for more than six years,” Ghoneim said.
“The question is how will these men be received by members of the community, many of whom have suffered gravely at the hands of ISIL.”
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies