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US-backed forces launch assault on IS group stronghold Raqqa

© Delil Souleilman, AFP | Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Tabqa, about 55km west of Raqqa, on May 18, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-06

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Tuesday it had begun a battle to capture Raqqa, Islamic State group’s de facto capital in Syria, launching attacks from the east, west and north of the city.

In a phone interview with Reuters from Syria, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the operation started on Monday and the fighting would be “fierce because Daesh (the Islamic State group) will die to defend their so-called capital”.

The Islamic State group captured the city from rebel groups in 2014 and has used it as an operations base to plan attacks in the West. The assault on Raqqa will pile more pressure on the Islamic State group’s self-declared “caliphate” with the group facing defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and being forced into retreat across much of Syria.

“The coalition has a big role in the success of the operations. In addition to warplanes, there are coalition forces working side by side with the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Silo said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organisation that reports on the war, earlier said the SDF attacked the eastern edge of Raqqa and a military base on the northern outskirts of the city on Tuesday.

The Kurdish YPG, part of the SDF, told Reuters on Saturday that the assault on Raqqa was expected to start in a few days.

“It started today at dawn,” Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said. “They have reached the city but they have not entered any of its buildings.”

The attack on the al-Mashlab district and on the Division 17 base around 1km to the north of the city centre followed heavy overnight air strikes, the Observatory said.

The SDF has been working to encircle Raqqa since November in an offensive backed by the US-led coalition that is also fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The US-led coalition has said 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic State group fighters are thought to be holed up in Raqqa city, where they have erected defences against the anticipated assault. The city is about 90km from the border with Turkey.

The United States said on Tuesday it had started distributing arms to the YPG to help take Raqqa, part of a plan that has angered NATO-ally Turkey, which is worried by growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said that Ankara will retaliate immediately if the operation to capture Raqqa presents a threat to the country.

Speaking to deputies from the ruling AK Party on Tuesday, Yildirim said Turkey was taking the necessary measures on the issue.

Turkey views the Kurdish YPG militia within the SDF as a terrorist group aligned with militants who have fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-06-06

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