Sunday, 26 January, 2020

Airstrikes on Islamic State-held Syrian city kill 12

Christy Curtis | 07 June, 2017, 04:49

It could also be a major turning point in the war against the extremists. The US-led coalition is carrying out air strikes on Raqqa to support the SDF offensive.

"It started today at dawn", Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.

The US military has said coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria had "unintentionally" killed 484 civilians, but observers say the number is much higher. "Our forces entered the city of Raqqa from the eastern district of Al-Meshleb", SDF commander Rojda Felat told Agence France-Presse, adding that clashes were also raging on the city's northern outskirts.

Raqqa is now surrounded from the east, north and west, and opposition activists have reported intense shelling and airstrikes on the city since Monday night, which killed at least 12 people.

IS militants are not expected to give up easily.

The US-backed SDF has been working to encircle Raqqa - estimated to have about 4,000 ISIL fighters - since November, as the terrorist group teeters on the brink of defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Warning the fight would be "long and hard", Townsend framed the offensive as part of a greater struggle against ISIS, which has claimed attacks in many countries including last month's deadly bombing in Manchester. "ISIS threatens all our nations, not just Iraq and Syria, but in our homelands as well".

"The fight for Raqqa will be long and hard, but the offensive would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate", the coalition said in a statement, citing its commanding general, Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend.

On Monday, the SDF tightened the siege on ISIS in Raqqa city after liberating three more villages in its northern countryside and killing at least 36 ISIS militants.

The SDF has said it will hand control of Raqqa to a civilian council from the city after its capture, echoing the pattern in other areas retaken by the SDF.

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The U.S. and its partners train Syrian rebels there to fight IS.

Turkey has remained hostile to the Kurdish People's Protection Units, known by their Kurdish acronym the YPG, which form the backbone of the SDF. Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with the PKK which has fought a bloody campaign in southeast Turkey since 1984.

On December 10, the SDF unveils the "second phase" of their offensive, and a Kurdish spokeswoman says the 30,000-strong force has already seized 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) of terrain.

In an address to legislators from his ruling party, Binali Yildirim again criticized the United States for launching the Raqqa offensive with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

IS stormed across large areas in Syria and Iraq in 2014, declaring a self-styled Islamic caliphate.

The Russian-backed Syrian army and allied militias advanced into Raqqa province from neighbouring Aleppo province where they have seized swathes of territory from Islamic State this year. The fighting has devastated communities in both countries and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. It has circled the city with land mines and checkpoints, the AP reported, in addition to "setting up barriers and hanging sheets of cloth over main streets to provide cover from warplanes".

Almost 200,000 people and 5,000 militants live in the city, according to the organization Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. That may indicate that IS "intends to use the 200,000 people still trapped in the city as human shields", the group reported.

State news agency SANA reported on Tuesday that the airstrikes by the US -led coalition killed 12, including women and children.

"The civilians were boarding small boats on the northern bank of the Euphrates River to flee southern neighbourhoods of Raqqa", said SOHR head, Rahman.

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