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US-backed forces in Syria breach Raqqa's old city wall

US Central Command has claimed a "key milestone" in the fight against so-called "Islamic State" in Syria. Two small gaps in the Rafiqah Wall in Raqqa have been opened allowing Kurdish and Arab fighters to advance.

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) opened the two small gaps in the Rafiqah Wall which has allowed them to avoid areas where IS fighters had planted mines and placed snipers. 

"The portions targeted were 25-meter (80-foot) sections and will help preserve the remainder of the overall 2,500-meter wall," the coalition said in a statement on Tuesday. "Conducting targeted strikes on two small portions of the wall allowed coalition and partner forces to breach the Old City at a locations of their choosing." 

There are believed to be up to 4,000 IS fighters still inside the Old City, which the group has held as a main center for its operations in Syria since 2014. 

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias created in 2015, said last week it had surrounded the city and cut off remaining IS escape routes.

Civilians, retreat and talks

The United Nations has warned that up to 100,000 civilians are still trapped in Raqqa and there are reports that IS has prevented many people from leaving the city, using them as human shields against incoming forces. 

As SDF forces have advanced, "Islamic State" (IS) has moved its command and control units to the city of Mayadin in eastern Syria, according to US intelligence sources. Mayadin in the Euphrates river valley is 45 kilometers southeast of the city of Deir al-Zour and has been attacked regularly by coalition airstrikes. 

A new round of Syria peace talks, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, is due to begin in Kazakhstan on Tuesday. On the agenda is a plan to shore up safe zones.

Iraqi forces in Mosul

IS has also lost control of the city of Mosul in Iraq where it declared the founding of its "caliphate" over Iraq and Syria nearly three years ago.

The jihadist group controls just a few streets in the Old City of Mosul as it makes a last stand against Iraqi army units.

The Iraqi army claims just a couple of hundred IS militants remain in Mosul. 

Thousands of people have fled Mosul's densely-populated Old City in recent days, according to Iraqi state television. 

jm/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

 

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