Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syrian Democratic Forces Advance towards Heart of Raqqa | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand near food supplies on the bank of the Euphrates river, west of Raqqa city, Syria April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

Beirut– Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is now in control of 60 percent of ISIS stronghold Raqqa city, northeast Syria, after it advanced further inside the city, whereas SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali stated that soon the battle will include the center of the city.

Bali stated that after liberating al-Rashid neighborhood, SDF will advance towards the center of Raqqa. He confirmed that SDF soon will be in control of 70 percent of the whole town.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the spokesperson denied reports that liberation is slowing down. He reiterated that the operations are going according to plan to avoid any civilian casualties given their large number inside the city. He also added that ISIS is using civilians as human shields which makes it difficult for the forces to advance.

Bali said that SDF special forces are also evacuating civilians.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that since the launch of Raqqa battles on June 06, SDF managed to regain control of about 60 percent of Raqqa, which is estimated to be 17.6 square kilometers of the area of the city.

SOHR stated that ISIS’s control is about 39.9 percent over the area of the city, estimated at 11.7 square kilometers.

The observatory pointed out that SDF attempts through its ongoing battles to achieve an advancement in the city after controlling the whole neighborhoods of al-Sabahiya, al-Romania, Heteen, Qadisiyah, Yarmouk and al-Karim in the west of the city.

In addition, SDF completely controlled the neighborhoods of al-Mashlab, al-Batani, al-Sena’a in the east of the city, while they controlled the whole neighborhood of Hisham bin Abdul Malik and Nazlet Shehada in the southern part of the city. The forces are also in control of wide areas of the Old city, and parts of the neighborhoods of al-Rawda, al-Rumeila, Hawd al-Furat and Idekhar Housing, and northern parts of al-Daraia neighborhood.

The forces also liberated the shrines of Ammar Ibn Yasser and Owais al-Qurani.

SDF’s advancement coincided with intensified and violent raids of coalition air force. The continuous bombardment, according to SOHR, killed at least 789 civilians including, 200 children and 123 women.

Commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said on Tuesday that he received several reports stating the death of dozens of civilians in Raqqa following the coalition operations.

During a joint press conference with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS Brett McGurk in Baghdad, Townsend told the reporters he is skeptical about the numbers, adding at the same time that it is not surprising to see increased casualties as the operations proceed.

“I have seen the reports of increased civilian casualties, and it is probably logical to assume that there have been some increases in civilian casualties because our operations have increased in intensity there,” Townsend told reporters, adding: “I would ask someone to show me hard information that says that civilian casualties have increased in Raqqa to some significant degree.”

In related news, UN condemned the reported US-led Coalition’s airstrike on the Syrian city of Raqqa that may have killed dozens of civilians.

UN Secretary-General spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that unconfirmed reports indicate that over 30 people were reportedly killed in al-Sakhani neighborhood while 8 internally displaced people from the same family were killed in a separate attack in another part of the city.

“These attacks, if confirmed, are shocking reminder that civilians continue to bear the brunt conflict of many parts of Syria,” reported Dujarric during the daily noon briefing.

UN Sec-Gen spokesperson reiterated that up to 25 thousand people remain trapped in the city.