Forces bat­tle IS

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

US-backed Syr­ian fight­ers fought Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in the heart of Raqa, 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 Turk­ish­backed Syr­ian forces else­where in the coun­try. As it bat­tled IS in Raqa, the SDF also fought Turk­ish-al­lied Syr­ian forces in Ein Daqna, in the neigh­bor­ing Aleppo prov­ince, ac­cord­ing to Syr­ian ac­tivists and Turk­ish me­dia.

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

The SDF says in­tense fight­ing is un­der­way in cen­tral Raqa, adding that its fight­ers have taken po­si­tions near a cen­turies-old mosque known as the Old Mosque.

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 Raqa 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 Raqa would deal a ma­jor blow to IS, but the group still holds wide ar­eas of the eastern prov­ince of Deir el-Zour, bor­der­ing Iraq.

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 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 US-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.

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