final assault starts on syria’s raqqa
Last Updated : GMT 05:21:58
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Last Updated : GMT 05:21:58
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as some Daesh fighters quit

Final assault starts on Syria’s Raqqa

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Arab Today, arab today Final assault starts on Syria’s Raqqa

Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces walk through rubble
Ain Issa , Syria - Arab News

US-backed militias said they had launched their final assault on Syria’s Raqqa on Sunday after a convoy of Daesh fighters left the city, leaving only a hardcore of jihadists to mount a last stand.
“The battle will continue until the whole city is clean,” said a statement by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias.
The SDF said earlier that a group of the jihadists had left in a convoy taking some civilians with them. But there were conflicting accounts as to whether the evacuees included both Syrian and foreign fighters.
Raqqa’s fall to the SDF now looks imminent after four months of battle.
“We still expect there to be difficult fighting,” said Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led international coalition backing the SDF in the war against Daesh.
Raqqa was the first big Syrian city to fall to Daesh as it declared a “caliphate” and rampaged through Syria and Iraq in 2014, becoming an operations center for attacks abroad and the stage for some of its darkest atrocities.
But Daesh has been in retreat for two years, losing swathes of territory in both countries and forced back into an ever-diminishing foothold along the Euphrates river valley.
“Last night, the final batch of fighters (who had agreed to leave) left the city,” said Mostafa Bali, an SDF spokesman.
Bali said only Syrian Daesh fighters had evacuated in the convoy. But Omar Alloush, an official in the Raqqa Civil Council formed under SDF auspices to oversee the city, said some foreign fighters had also departed.
Neither said how many fighters had left or how many remained in the tiny, bomb-cratered patch of Raqqa still held by Daesh. Before the convoy left, the coalition estimated that about 300-400 fighters remained.
HUMAN SHIELDS
The convoy would head to the remaining Daesh territory in eastern Syria and included about 400 civilians along with the fighters, Alloush had said on Saturday.
Bali described the civilians who left with Daesh fighters in the convoy as human shields. The jihadists had refused to release them once they left the city as agreed, wanting to take them as far as their destination to guarantee their own safety, he said.
Such withdrawals of fighters along with groups of civilians have grown commonplace in Syria’s six-year war, as a way for besieging forces to accelerate the fall of populated areas.
In previous evacuations, including by Daesh, the civilians usually included family members of the fighters.
The agreement was brokered by the Raqqa Civil Council and tribal elders to “minimize civilian casualties,” the coalition said on Saturday. Tribal leaders from Raqqa said they sought to prevent bloodshed among civilians still trapped in the city.
The SDF’s decision to hasten the battle’s end by allowing Daesh fighters to leave Raqqa was at odds with the stated wishes of the US-led coalition that backs the militias with air strikes and special forces.
Dillon said on Sunday it was not involved in the evacuation but added: “We may not always fully agree with our partners at times. But we have to respect their solutions.”
In August, the coalition spent weeks preventing a convoy of Daesh fighters evacuated from an enclave on the Syrian-Lebanon border from reaching jihadist territory in eastern Syria.
JIHADIST CAPITAL
The SDF announced the start of the battle for Raqqa on June 6 after a months-long campaign to isolate the city against the north bank of the Euphrates.
Daesh, then known as Daesh in Iraq and the Levant, had captured the city in January 2014, seizing it from rebel factions which had ousted the Syrian army a few months earlier.
As the group became more entrenched in Syria and Iraq leading up to its capture of Mosul in June that year, Raqqa became its most important center, and its series of victories were celebrated in a massive parade through the city.
Many of its top leaders were at times based there, and former hostages said Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihadi John, imprisoned them along with those he later executed, in a building near an oil installation near the city.
The group killed dozens of captured Syrian soldiers there in July 2014 and it was also the site of a slave market for Yazidi women captured in Iraq and given to fighters.
The coalition has said Raqqa was a hub for attacks abroad, and in November 2015, after militants killed more than 130 people in Paris, France launched air strikes on Daesh targets inside Raqqa.
But the group is now in disarray. In Syria it does not only face the US-backed SDF offensive but a rival one by the Syrian army supported by Russia, Iran and allied Shiite militias.
A Syrian military source said on Saturday the army had captured the city of Al-Mayadin in the Euphrates valley, leaving Daesh only a few more towns and villages, and areas of the surrounding desert, in Syria.
But the battle for Raqqa has come at great cost to its people. Much of the city has been pulverised by the intense coalition air strikes and by the months of street-to-street fighting. Thousands of people have fled as refugees and hundreds of civilians have died.

Source: Arab News

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