Fight­ing in Raqqa in­ten­si­fies

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

A fighter for the U.S.-backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces takes cover Mon­day in Raqqa, Syria, the Is­lamic State’s self-de­clared cap­i­tal. The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces re­ported in­tense fight­ing in cen­tral Raqqa, as a Kur­dish news agency said scores of civil­ians were able to flee ar­eas con­trolled by the mil­i­tant group.

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syr­ian fight­ers fought Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in the heart of Raqqa, the ex­trem­ists’ self­styled 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 the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group in Syria, but it has also clashed with Turk­ish-backed forces else­where in Syria. As it bat­tled the Is­lamic State in Raqqa, the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces also fought Turk­ish-sup­ported fac­tions in Ein Daqna, in the neigh­bor­ing Aleppo prov­ince, ac­cord­ing to Syr­ian ac­tivists and Turk­ish me­dia.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, aided by the U.S.-led coali­tion, launched its 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 was con­cen­trated in Raqqa’s south­west­ern neigh­bor­hood of Yar­mouk as well as a cen­tral area close to the Old City.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces said 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 said some 180 civil­ians were able to flee ar­eas con­trolled by the Is­lamic State, while the Ob­ser­va­tory put the num­ber in the hun­dreds.

The U.S.-backed fight­ers said 11 Is­lamic State fight­ers have been killed in the clashes since Sun­day. The Is­lamic State-linked Aa­maq news agency said 14 Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces fight­ers were killed in the fight­ing in Raqqa on Sun­day alone.

The in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of fight­ing comes a week af­ter Iraqi forces de­clared vic­tory against the Is­lamic State in the north­ern Iraqi city of Mo­sul, the largest city the ex­trem­ists have held. The loss of Raqqa would deal a ma­jor blow to the Is­lamic State, 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 against the Is­lamic State, 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 a day ear­lier, the Ob­ser­va­tory and Syr­ian mil­i­tary me­dia re­ported. The ad­vance se­cures fur­ther nat­u­ral re­sources rev­enue for the govern­ment and puts govern­ment forces in a po­si­tion to pen­e­trate the Deir el-Zour coun­try­side.

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

AP/HUS­SEIN MALLA

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