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US-Backed SDF Units Push into ISIS-held Bastion in Tabqa, Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters, stands guard near the village of Bir Fawaz, in February 2017

London – Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by Washington, entered on Monday the strategic ISIS bastion in the Tabaqa city located in Syria’s Raqqa governorate, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“They seized control of several points in the town’s south and were advancing on its western edges,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

In an online statement, the SDF said it had captured ISIS-held positions in west Tabqa, including a roundabout, and part of a southern district.

“There are now clearing operations in the liberated positions,” the SDF said.

The US-led coalition warplanes carried out “intense” strikes in support of the offensive, Rahman said, adding that one raid had killed seven children and four women trying to flee Tabqa.

Tabqa sits on a key supply route about 50 kilometers west of Raqa, and served as an important ISIS command base, housing the group’s main prison.

The assault on Tabqa began on March 22 when SDF forces and their US-led coalition allies were airlifted behind ISIS lines south of the Euphrates River.

The ensuing fight has been intense, with ISIS dispatching suicide bombers daily to try to slow the offensive and coalition warplanes intensifying their raids.

“The real battle begins now,” Abdel Rahman said on Monday, adding that ISIS militants had “no way” out of the town.

More so, Air raids on Khan Sheikhoun have continued, with seven people killed in strikes on the town market on Monday, the Observatory said.

It came as Russia’s defense ministry said the pro-regime Syrian army would halt fire around Khan Sheikhoun if experts were allowed in to conduct a probe.

The ministry said Damascus was “ready to declare a complete moratorium on the activities of its troops, aviation and artillery in the area” if investigators were sent in. Syria’s regime has not commented on the offer.

For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his hope that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) would finally send its specialists to Khan Sheikhoun and the air base, and that the probe would be transparent. Lavrov’s words were laid out during a joint press conference with his European counterpart Federica Mogherini.