Talks be­ing held on civil­ian exit from Raqa

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Kobane, Syria - Talks for the safe exit of civil­ians trapped in Syria’s Raqa were un­der way on Wed­nes­day, as US-backed forces pre­pare a fi­nal push to re­cap­ture the city from the Is­lamic State (IS) group.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF), an al­liance of Kur­dish and Arab fight­ers, have taken around 90 per cent of the city from IS since June.

The US-backed mili­tia has sur­rounded re­main­ing IS fight­ers in just a hand­ful of po­si­tions, but thou­sands of civil­ians are still in the city, some of them be­ing used as hu­man shields.

On Tues­day, the US-led coali­tion said of­fi­cials from the Raqa Civil Coun­cil (RCC) - a pro­vi­sional ad­min­is­tra­tion for the city set up by the SDF - were try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate the safe pas­sage of civil­ians from re­main­ing IS-held ar­eas.

“The Raqa Civil Coun­cil is lead­ing dis­cus­sions to de­ter­mine the best way to en­able civil­ians trapped by Daesh to exit the city, where some are be­ing held as hu­man shields by the ter­ror­ists,” the coali­tion said.

The RCC de­clined com­ment on the dis­cus­sions. The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights di­rec­tor Rami Ab­del Rah­man said, “The ne­go­ti­a­tions are for the exit of Daesh fight­ers and their fam­i­lies to Albu Ka­mal and eastern Deir Ez­zor prov­ince.”

Deals to al­low IS fight­ers to with­draw from ter­ri­tory have been ne­go­ti­ated in the past, in­clud­ing in May when a deal al­lowed sev­eral dozen ex­trem­ists to flee the town of Tabqa, west of Raqa.

IS fight­ers and their fam­i­lies were also al­lowed to leave parts of the bor­der re­gion be­tween Le­banon and Syria ear­lier this year, headed for Deir Ez­zor, in a con­tro­ver­sial deal agreed by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and its Le­banese ally Hezbol­lah.

Ji­han Sheikh Ahmed, spokes­woman for the SDF’s of­fen­sive, told AFP that be­tween 600 and 700 ac­tive IS fight­ers were be­lieved to re­main in Raqa, with an ad­di­tional 800 to 900 wounded fight­ers also still in­side the city.

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, SDF fight­ers in the city con­tacted by AFP re­ported that the fronts were mostly quiet, although there were spo­radic airstrikes by the US-led coali­tion.

(AFP)

Mem­bers of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, backed by US spe­cial forces, make their way through the rub­ble on the western front­line of Raqa on Oc­to­ber 8

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