Talks being held on civilian exit from Raqa
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.
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