US-backed forces announce ‘great battle’ to capture Syria’s Raqqa

The Syrian Democratic Forces said they were launching a new phase in their assault on the Raqa. (Syrian Democratic Forces, via AP, File)
Updated 06 June 2017
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US-backed forces announce ‘great battle’ to capture Syria’s Raqqa

HAZIMA, SYRIA: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said on Tuesday they were launching a new phase in their assault on the Daesh group’s bastion Raqqa, after advancing to the city’s outskirts.
“We declare today the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of terrorism and terrorists,” SDF spokesman Talal Sello told reporters in the village of Hazima, north of the city.
With air support from a US-led coalition, the SDF has spent months sealing off the jihadists in Raqqa, the heart of their territory in war-ravaged Syria.
By Tuesday morning, the Arab-Kurdish alliance was attacking the city from the north, west and east, Sello said.
“With the international coalition’s warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh,” Sello told AFP.
He asked civilians inside the city to keep away from Daesh positions and from the front lines.
As the SDF has drawn closer to the city, reports of civilian casualties in coalition air strikes have swelled.
On Monday, the Observatory said a coalition bombing raid killed 21 civilians as they tried to escape Raqqa by dinghy on the Euphrates River.
The same route had been used by Daesh fighters, Abdel Rahman said.
More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more have fled their homes since the civil war erupted in Syria in March 2011.


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 3 min 7 sec ago
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.