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Syrian Kurds say ISIS shoring up de facto capital Raqqa
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In this photo provided by the Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG), Kurdish fighters of the YPG sit on their pickup in the town of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa city, Syria, on June 23, 2015. (The Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units via AP)

In this photo provided by the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Kurdish fighters of the YPG sit on their pickup in the town of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa city, Syria, on June 23, 2015. (The Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units via AP)

Beirut, Reuters—Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters appear to be shoring up their defenses around their Syrian stronghold Raqqa city after losing ground to Kurdish-led forces this week, a spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia said on Wednesday.

A Kurdish-led advance deep into the heart of ISIS territory is reversing the momentum of the militants, who seized major towns in both Syria and Iraq last month.

Kurdish-led forces backed by US coalition airstrikes seized the town of Ain Issa in northern Syria from ISIS on Tuesday after capturing a military base overnight.

Kurds and their Syrian rebel allies came within 30 miles (50 kilometers) of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, from which it rules over a self-declared “caliphate” across large areas of Syria and Iraq.

On Wednesday YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said in an online message the Kurds had received information that ISIS had “begun digging trenches in the vicinity of Raqqa to improve their defenses” following the Kurdish advances.

The YPG said on Tuesday it was not yet planning an assault on Raqqa and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group has said the operations were aimed at seizing control of an east–west highway which links the city of Aleppo with the northeastern province of Al-Hasakah.

On Tuesday the Kurdish-led forces took control of Ain Issa town as ISIS withdrew, after capturing the nearby Liwa-93 military base, a strategic site which ISIS had captured last year from government forces.

The YPG fighters have emerged as the most credible ally of the US-led campaign on the ground in Syria against ISIS and the YPG says there is close coordination.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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