AMMAN: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces reached central Raqqa city on Monday, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led militia told Syria Direct, after seizing one of the last remaining Islamic State-held neighborhoods within the historic Old Raqqa district.
Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are“within eyesight” of Raqqa’s central clock tower square on Monday afternoon after driving IS fighters from the eastern al-Mansour neighborhood in a week-long battle for the district, Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesman told Syria Direct.
“Our forces are still sweeping through the district searching for hidden [IS] cells and clearing any landmines,” he added.
The US-backed force was fighting the Islamic State “close to the clock tower,” on Monday, confirmed online monitoring group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The anti-IS group routinely monitors developments in Raqqa province via a network of contacts and undercover citizen journalists on the ground.
The capture of the al-Mansour district increases the SDF’s control of the provincial capital to an estimated "70 percent," Bali said. Al-Mansour now provides a “gateway” from the city’s east into the central IS-held districts.
Monday’s advances come one day after SDF forces reportedly seized the Raqqa Children’s Hospital just south of the al-Mansour neighborhood, in a “room-to-room” fight, US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk tweeted the same day. Islamic State fighters used the complex as a military base, McGurk and a number of Kurdish news outlets alleged.
Contested Islamic State territory in central Raqqa city on Monday, photographed by Euphrates Wrath Campaign to Liberate Raqqa.
The SDF—a multi-ethnic militia mostly made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters—launched their battle for Raqqa city on June 6.
The offensive’s goal is to “liberate” Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital city and one of its last major urban strongholds, SDF spokesman Talal Silo announced via video at the time.
Hundreds of civilians are dying as a result of the urban battles as SDF and IS forces fight building to building and US-run coalition airstrikes pummel residential neighborhoods.
Remaining IS-held areas of Raqqa city are packed with “civilians still trapped inside,” Balti said. “This makes our operations surrounded in danger and require patience and calm to avoid losses.”
“IS’s use of civilians as human shields makes our mission particularly prickly and complicated," he added.
The SDF on Monday carried out "operations to open up safe evacuation passages for civilians from al-Mansour district” as fighting continued on its outskirts, Bali told Syria Direct.
Nearly 800 civilians have been killed since the battle for Raqqa began two and a half months ago, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.
Last week the UN released a statement condemning attacks—including coalition airstrikes—against “civilians and civilian infrastructure” inside the city. As many as 25,000 civilians remain “trapped” in Raqqa city at risk of IS snipers and mines, as well as coalition airstrikes, said Ali Al-Za'tari, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria and Ramesh Rajasingham, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria in a joint statement.
As of publication, the US-backed air coalition had not yet released its daily report of anti-IS airstrikes, which details strikes across both Syria and Iraq.