For the first time in over two-and-a-half years, the women of Manbij, Syria walked with their faces uncovered Saturday, some of them even setting their niqabs on fire. Men shaved or trimmed their beards. Smokers of both sexes lit up and puffed away.
U.S.-backed fighters seized the key northern Syria city late Friday after two months of heavy fighting that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced thousands more. The fighters also freed hundreds of civilians the extremists had used as human shields, Syrian Kurdish officials and an opposition activist group said.
Amateur videos showed civilians hugging fighters from the predominently Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) after being evacuated from the final ISIS-held neighborhood.
“May God destroy them. They slaughtered us,” a young man shouted in a Manbij square. “May they not live for a minute.”
The Observatory said that following the capture of Manbij, hundreds of civilians used by ISIS as human shields have been freed.
SDF fighters had been slowly advancing on the town and nearby villages for weeks.
According to the Observatory, the fighting and the airstrikes have killed 1,756 people, including 438 civilians, 299 SDF fighters and 1,019 militants since the Manbij offensive began in late May.
Among those killed was the top Kurdish commander, known as Abu Layla, who died on June 5, days after sustaining wounds during the campaign.
ISIS has suffered major defeats over the past months in Syria and Iraq, where the military recaptured the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in the western Anbar province. However, ISIS still controls large parts of Syria as well as Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.