Coali­tion forces move on IS ‘cap­i­tal’ in Syria

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - REUTERS

BEIRUT: US-backed Syr­ian forces have ad­vanced into op­po­site sides of Is­lamic State’s so-called Syr­ian cap­i­tal of Raqqa, the forces and a war mon­i­tor said.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF), a group of Kur­dish and Arab mili­tias sup­ported by a US-led coali­tion, be­gan to at­tack Raqqa last Tues­day after a months-long cam­paign to cut it off.

The US-led coali­tion es­ti­mates that Raqqa, which IS seized from Syr­ian rebels in 2014 dur­ing their light­ning ad­vance in Syria and Iraq, is de­fended by 3 000 to 4 000 ji­hadists.

It has been a hub for IS mil­i­tary lead­ers and its bu­reau­crats, and used to plot at­tacks in coun­tries around the world.

The SDF said it had seized al-Mish­lab district in the far east of Raqqa on Fri­day and al-Sabahia district in the west. The war mon­i­tor, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, said the SDF had taken Mish­lab and more than half of Sabahia.

The forces are now ad­vanc­ing into al-Ro­ma­nia district in north­west Raqqa. IS had turned back an ear­lier SDF as­sault on a mil­i­tary base on the north side.

IS still has a long sweep of ter­ri­tory along Syria’s Euphrates val­ley and wide stretches of desert, de­spite re­cent losses to the SDF.

For­mer res­i­dents in touch with rel­a­tives in the be­lea­guered city said at least 50 peo­ple, mostly civil­ians, were killed in es­ca­lat­ing US-led strikes in the past 24 hours on res­i­den­tial ar­eas in­side the city.

More than 10 peo­ple were killed and dozens in­jured on Satur­day when jets be­lieved to be­long to the US-led coali­tion hit the city’s main Nour Street in the cen­tre of the com­mer­cial area, they said.

The other strike that killed at least 14 peo­ple was in the west­ern neigh­bour­hood of Jazra, where jets tar­geted an in­ter­net cafe, ac­cord­ing to Muhab Nasser, an ex­ile from Raqqa in touch with rel­a­tives and friends.

Amaq, a news agency af­fil­i­ated to IS, re­leased im­ages of what is said were white phos­pho­rus mu­ni­tions light­ing the city of Raqqa that were dropped by the US-led coali­tion.

The agency said 33 peo­ple were killed and 25 in­jured in a se­ries of raids overnight.

Videos posted by Raqqa ac­tivists and per­sonal ac­counts com­ing out of the city also cited wit­nesses say­ing the city was hit for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive night with in­cen­di­ary bombs.

The US-led coali­tion does not deny us­ing in­cen­di­ary bombs and says ca­su­al­ties are un­avoid­able even as it tries to min­imise the im­pact of its mil­i­tary cam­paign on civil­ians.

To the west of Raqqa, the Syr­ian army and its al­lies have ad­vanced into IS ter­ri­tory and on Fri­day reached SDF lines near the town of Tabqa, 40km from the city.

The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment has de­scribed the SDF’s war against IS as “le­git­i­mate”.

The gov­ern­ment’s mil­i­tary pri­or­i­ties are fur­ther east, sug­gest­ing it does not plan to con­front the group now.

PIC­TURE: EPA

Syr­i­ans, who fled the Is­lamic State strong­hold of Raqqa, ride with their be­long­ings on a truck, near the vil­lage of Bal­a­ban, south of Jarablu.

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