US-backed forces seize parts of Raqqa from ′Islamic State′ | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 11.06.2017
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Middle East

US-backed forces seize parts of Raqqa from 'Islamic State'

An alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces have made significant gains in their offensive to liberate the Syrian city. Human rights groups have warned of the challenges presented by 160,000 civilians still living in Raqqa.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Sunday said it captured a northwestern neighborhood of Raqqa as part of the alliance's offensive to uproot the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) militant group from its de facto capital in Syria.

The SDF "liberated the neighborhood of al-Romaniah on the western front of Raqqa after two days of continued clashes," the Arab-Kurdish alliance said in a statement.

Read more: The Middle East's complex Kurdish landscape

On June 6, the Kurdish-led SDF began its offensive to recapture Raqqa from IS. The alliance has surrounded the city, and launched a multi-pronged assault with the help of aerial support from the US-led coalition against IS

Strategic assault

Al-Romaniah marks the second district captured by the SDF. In the eastern part of Raqqa, the Kurdish-led forces managed to seize control of al-Meshleb.

However, in the northern part of the city, the SDF has witnessed less progress. The military alliance has struggled to capture the Division 17 military base and an adjacent sugar factory. The former Syrian military facility has served as a strategic base of operations for IS.

The SDF formed in 2015 and spent the past seven months preparing for the operation to recapture Raqqa.

Civilians in crossfire

In recent months, thousands of civilians have fled Raqqa in anticipation of the offensive. However, the UN humanitarian office estimates that roughly 160,000 civilians remain in the city.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of on-the-ground informants in Syria, said that the civilian death toll has hit 58 since the battle for Raqqa began on June 6.

Read more: US plan to 'annihilate IS' raises questions over civilian toll, larger strategy

Human rights groups have warned of the potential of high civilian casualties during the assault, calling for the US-led coalition to ensure it would minimize risks for civilians as much as possible.

Unending war

More than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for the release of political prisoners and President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Since then, the war has developed into a multi-faceted conflict involving global superpowers, non-state actors, regional forces and terrorist groups.

ls/rc (AFP, AP)

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