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Syrian Kurds launch sweeping anti-IS arrests in al-Hol camp

Over 30 men and women arrested in what the SDF says is a security operation that would run for 10 days
A member of Kurdish security watches as a group of Syrian families is released from al-Hol camp on 18 March 2021 (AFP)

Syrian Kurdish forces on Sunday carried out a security operation in a camp in northeast Syria for suspected family members of Islamic State militants and made dozens of arrests, an opposition activist group and Kurdish officials said.

"More than 30 women and men have been arrested" in an anti-IS operation in and around the al-Hol camp in Hasakeh province, said Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The arrests are ongoing" as part of a days-long operation by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is the Kurdish regional administration's main fighting force, the Kurdish YPG militia and a local police force, Abdurrahman said.

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Syrians and foreigners "suspected of supporting IS" have been arrested, he said.

SDF officials confirmed the operation, with one of them saying it would run for at least 10 days.

The US-led coalition battling IS said it was providing its SDF partners with "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance" support.

"The purpose of this SDF operation is to degrade and disrupt Daesh activities within the camp to ensure the safety and security of camp residents," coalition spokesperson Wayne Marotto told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Al-Hol is the largest camp controlled by Kurdish authorities, holding 62,000 people from various backgrounds, mostly women and children.

Kurds have warned that the camp, which holds suspected relatives of IS fighters, is emerging as an extremist powder keg.

The Observatory has recorded around 40 murders in al-Hol since the start of this year. 

Kurdish authorities say IS sympathisers are behind most of the murders, while humanitarian sources have said tribal disputes could be behind some of the killings. 

In a report published last month, the UN said it had documented cases of "radicalisation, fundraising, training and incitement of external operations" at al-Hol.

It also warned over the fate of around 7,000 children living in a special annex designated for foreign IS relatives.

They are "being groomed as future ISIL [IS] operatives", according to the United Nations.