- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 19, 2019

AL-OMAR OIL FIELD BASE, Syria (AP) — The U.N.’s human rights chief said Tuesday she is concerned about the condition of some 200 families trapped in the last remaining area held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria, where they are mixed with hundreds of militants.

In Idlib, government forces shelled a bakery killing at least four people, including children, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a war monitor said.

Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that the extremists are actively preventing civilians, including women and children, from leaving the tiny area near the border with Iraq, which is currently besieged by U.S.-backed Syrian fighters.

Some 300 militants are mixed in with hundreds of civilians and are refusing to surrender while trying to negotiate an exit with the U.S.-backed forces surrounding them.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said some 50 trucks entered the ISIS-held area, apparently to bring out some of the people trapped inside.

The Observatory had earlier reported that a request by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, to be evacuated to neighboring Iraq was rejected by the SDF.

Bachelet also expressed concerns over recent violence in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country, calling on all parties involved to ensure that the protection of civilians is held paramount in the planning and execution of all military operations in accordance with international law.

“Large numbers of civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people, in Idlib and northern Aleppo are living an intolerable existence,” said Bachelet, referring to those who were displaced from other parts of the country to Idlib over the past years.

On Tuesday, government forces shelled a bakery killing at least four people, including children, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, the Observatory said.

The group said the shelling hit the main bakery that supplies Khan Sheikhoun and nearby villages with bread. It said four people were killed in the shelling including children.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense said the shelling killed five people including two children and also wounded five others. It said the bakery is out of service.

Near the border with Jordan, in the country’s south, the Syrian government opened Tuesday two humanitarian passages with the assistance of Russian troops for people in a tent settlement who want to move to other parts of the country, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The Rukban camp is home to some 40,000 displaced people who suffer from lack of food and medical supplies. It was not immediately clear if people started leaving.

Last week, the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered badly needed humanitarian assistance as Russia offered to help relocate those willing to move to government-held areas in Syria.

Jordan closed the border over security concerns and the Syrian government and its ally Russia have blamed U.S. troops stationed nearby for failing to provide security for aid shipments - allegations denied by the Americans.

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

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