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Led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an assault to root out the last remaining ISIS fighters from villages on the banks of the Euphrates River began on Saturday.

After pausing more than a week to allow tens of thousands of civilians to flee the town, the SDF on Saturday renewed its push to wrest the last 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) from the militants.

US intelligence officials told Reuters that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared leader of ISIS, is reportedly alive and suspected to be hiding in Iraq.

Its territory has now shrunk to a tiny pocket in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province, with militants holed up in the village of Baghouz Al-Fawqani, near the Iraqi border.

The SDF, backed by the US-led coalition, has defeated ISIS across a swathe of northern and eastern Syria in recent months, reducing its once expansive caliphate to a fraction of its peak size.

A fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as a grim battle takes place for the last ISIS-held enclave in Syria.

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At the height of their rule, the militants imposed their brutal interpretation of Islamic law on a territory spanning parts of Syria and Iraq that was roughly the size of Britain.

Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, did not indicate how soon he expected the civilian evacuation to be completed.

The Observatory said that since the SDF began its offensive against IS in the area on September 10, some 1,279 IS gunmen and 678 SDF fighters have been killed.

Bali told AFP that around 600 IS fighters are still inside the pocket, majority die-hard foreign fighers.

Despite its caliphate being on the brink of collapse, IS still retains a presence in Syria's vast Badia desert and has carried out deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

Kurdish authorities say they have in their custody hundreds of foreign male ISIS members.

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Human Rights Watch has warned that any transfers of suspected foreign jihadists and their relatives out of Syria should be transparent.

The president's sudden decision surprised many in his own administration as well as coalition allies such as Turkey and an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that fought Islamic State with U.S. military support.

"We, as the SDF, think that dealing with and finishing off the Islamic State militarily was the easy step, but now comes the more challenging phase".

Remaining in an area of fields and farmhouses less than a few square kilometres are up to 600 ISIS fighters and their families, many of them foreigners.

Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

The regime has made a military comeback with Russian military support since 2015, and now holds nearly two-thirds of Syria.

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