BEIRUT (AP) -- U.S.-backed Syrian fighters on Thursday gave Islamic State militants 48 hours to leave an encircled town near the Turkish border without a fight, in a last bid effort to protect civilian lives, according to a statement issued by the group.
The Manbij Military Council, which is part of the U.S.-supported Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said the initiative represents the "only and last" opportunity for IS militants to "leave the town alive."
Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, SDF fighters have encircled Manbij and clashed with IS militants inside the town but have so far avoided an all-out assault on the town to minimize civilian casualties. However, airstrikes in the Manbij countryside blamed on the coalition have killed scores of civilians in the past few days, including children.
The statement accused IS of using civilians as human shields and said it would allow the group a last opportunity to leave the town with their "individual weapons" to a location of their choice. Manbij is an IS hub and lies on a key supply route to the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa. If Manbij is captured by the U.S.-backed fighters, it will be the biggest strategic defeat for IS in Syria since July 2015, when the extremist group lost the border town of Tal Abyad.
Meanwhile, the U.N.'s children agency condemned the killing of children amid Syria's ongoing civil war following brutal incidents in the country's north.
In a statement distributed Thursday, UNICEF said dozens of children were among those killed in airstrikes in and around the town of Manbij in the past few days.
The coalition has not commented on the accusations but has stepped up its airstrikes on the area, which is controlled by the Islamic State group.
"No matter where they are in Syria or under whose control they live - absolutely nothing justifies attacks on children," UNICEF said.
UNICEF also condemned the killing of a 12-year-old boy who was beheaded on-camera in Aleppo this week by a Syrian rebel group. The Nour el-Din al-Zinki group, a relatively moderate group that fights the Syrian government and the Islamic State group, called the killing of the Palestinian boy an "individual mistake" and said it will open an investigation into his murder.