U.S.-backed forces bat­tle IS in heart of Syria’s Raqqa

The Barrie Examiner - - WORLD -

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syr­ian fight­ers fought Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in the heart of Raqqa, the ex­trem­ists’ self-styled cap­i­tal, on Mon­day, as scores of civil­ians fled ar­eas con­trolled by the group.

The Kur­dish-led group has been one of the most ef­fec­tive forces fight­ing IS in Syria, but has also clashed with Turk­ish-backed Syr­ian forces else­where in the coun­try. As it bat­tled IS in Raqqa, the SDF also fought Turk­ish-al­lied Syr­ian forces in Ein Daqna, in the neigh­bour­ing Aleppo prov­ince, ac­cord­ing to Syr­ian ac­tivists and Turk­ish me­dia.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, aided by the U.S.-led coali­tion, launched their of­fen­sive to cap­ture Raqqa on June 6, and have since taken sev­eral ar­eas. The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said Mon­day’s fight­ing is con­cen­trated in Raqqa’s south­west­ern neigh­bour­hood of Yar­mouk as well as a cen­tral area close to the Old City.

The SDF says in­tense fight­ing is un­der­way in cen­tral Raqqa, adding that its fight­ers have taken po­si­tions near a cen­turies-old mosque known as the Old Mosque. The Kur­dish-run Hawar news agency says some 180 civil­ians were able to flee ar­eas con­trolled by IS, while the Ob­ser­va­tory put the num­ber in the hun­dreds.

The SDF said 11 IS fight­ers have been killed in the clashes since Sun­day. The IS-linked Aa­maq news agency said 14 SDF fight­ers were killed in the fight­ing in Raqqa on Sun­day alone.

The in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of fight­ing comes a week af­ter Iraqi forces de­clared vic­tory against IS in the north­ern Iraqi city of Mo­sul, the largest the ex­trem­ists have held. The loss of Raqqa would deal a ma­jor blow to IS, but the group still holds wide ar­eas of the eastern prov­ince of Deir el-Zour, bor­der­ing Iraq.

That prov­ince fig­ures to be the back­drop to the next phase of the war on IS, with gov­ern­ment forces backed by Rus­sia and Iran ap­proach­ing from the west and south. Pro-gov­ern­ment forces reached the edges of the Bashari moun­tain range on Mon­day, af­ter seiz­ing the Zamla nat­u­ral gas field one day ear­lier, the Ob­ser­va­tory and Syr­ian mil­i­tary me­dia re­ported. The ad­vance se­cures fur­ther nat­u­ral re­sources rev­enues for the gov­ern­ment and puts gov­ern­ment forces in a po­si­tion to pen­e­trate the Deir el-Zour coun­try­side.

The SDF is dom­i­nated by a Kur­dish mili­tia known as the YPG, which Tur­key views as an ex­ten­sion of the Kur­dish in­sur­gency rag­ing in its own ter­ri­tory. Turk­ish troops and al­lied Syr­ian forces rolled into Syria last year in or­der to bat­tle IS and halt the ad­vance of the SDF. The U.S.-led coali­tion has sought to stop the fight­ing be­tween Tur­key and the SDF, both of which are al­lies against IS.

The web­site of Tur­key’s pro-gov­ern­ment A Haber tele­vi­sion said Turk­ish-backed Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers launched a “large” op­er­a­tion against the SDF in Ein Daqna, close to the Turk­ish bor­der. The web­site quotes un­named lo­cal sources as say­ing that in­tense clashes are on­go­ing.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said Mon­day’s fight­ing killed two Tur­key-backed fight­ers and left sev­eral SDF fight­ers wounded. A Haber said at least one Turk­ish-backed fighter was killed and some 14 were wounded.

Rezan Hiddo, an SDF po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer, said the group had re­pelled the as­sault on Ein Daqna. Hiddo said Turk­ish ar­tillery struck the vil­lage as well as near a Rus­sian mil­i­tary out­post in nearby Kafr Jan­neh, which is also un­der SDF con­trol. Rus­sia de­ployed what it called ob­server units into the re­gion ear­lier this year to dis­cour­age clashes be­tween Tur­key and the SDF.

“We are wait­ing for the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment to ap­ply diplo­matic pres­sure on Tur­key to halt the ag­gres­sion,” said Hiddo. The As­so­ci­ated Press

HUS­SEIN MALLA/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Smoke rises from a coali­tion airstrike which at­tacked an Is­lamic State po­si­tion, on the front line on the eastern side of Raqqa, north­east Syria, Mon­day. U.S.-backed Syr­ian fight­ers fought Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in the heart of Raqqa, the ex­trem­ists’ self-styled cap­i­tal, as scores of civil­ians fled ar­eas con­trolled by the group.

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