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US-backed forces in new push against Daesh in Raqqa

This frame grab from video released Thursday, July 6, 2017 and provided by Hawar News Agency, a Syrian Kurdish activist-run media group, shows U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters in the eastern side of Raqqa, Syria. (Hawar News Agency, via AP)
RAQQA, Syria: US-backed forces captured a new district from militants in Syria’s Raqqa but struggled to hold their positions against suicide car bombers, a fighter in the city and a monitor said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, seized the eastern Batani district from Daesh on Thursday.
“Late Thursday, they began an offensive on neighboring Al-Rumeilah,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Clashes were raging on Friday as Daesh deployed its typical defensive tactics: Weaponized drones, snipers, and improvised explosive devices, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
An SDF fighter near Al-Rumeilah told AFP on Thursday that suicide attackers were using explosives-laden vehicles to hold back the SDF.
“They’re sending booby-trapped cars toward our positions, and as they fall back, they’re laying mines,” said the 30-year-old fighter, who identified himself as Abu.
Civilians “can’t move. They can’t leave during the day because of snipers.”
Abu said his unit had managed to open up an escape route for residents of Al-Rumeilah.
“Ten days ago, a strike hit our home and we ran inside quickly. My sister was hit in the stomach and started bleeding. She stayed alive for six days and then she died,” 56-year-old Abdel Halim Ulaywi said.
He had tried to escape several times “but Daesh kept forcing us back,” he told AFP.
According to Rahman, Daesh has slowed down the SDF’s push in other parts of Raqqa, including the Old City.
“The SDF is struggling to hold newly-seized positions in the Old City because of intense sniping and escalating attacks by drones carrying bombs,” he said.
Daesh captured Raqqa in early 2014, transforming the northern Syrian city into the scene of gruesome atrocities like public beheadings.
The SDF, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, spent months encircling the city before finally breaking into it on June 6.
The militia has since captured around 30 percent of the city, according to the SOHR.
Meanwhile, a Syrian first responders’ group said at least two people were killed in a barrage of airstrikes on the outskirts of Damascus as government forces intensified efforts to push fighters away from Syria’s capital.
The Syrian Civil Defense group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, posted a video of rescue workers retrieving one of the victims from the rubble of a building on Friday.
It said at least one other person was killed and several people were wounded.
The SOHR reported ten airstrikes on opposition-held areas of the contested Ein Terma suburb of Damascus in the morning alone.
Local fighter commander Abdelnasser Shamir said on Thursday that the last four weeks of fighting over the suburb have been the “most vicious” in the conflict.
Meanwhile, a top Syrian envoy to the UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva said his team has not been asked to meet face-to-face with the opposition.
Bashar Al-Ja’afari spoke to reporters after his final meeting with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura as this seventh round of indirect talks, involving the warring sides since early last year, came to a close on Friday.
A day earlier, de Mistura acknowledged that he was not “pushing” for the opposition and government delegations to meet directly until they could engage in “real” talks.
RAQQA, Syria: US-backed forces captured a new district from militants in Syria’s Raqqa but struggled to hold their positions against suicide car bombers, a fighter in the city and a monitor said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, seized the eastern Batani district from Daesh on Thursday.
“Late Thursday, they began an offensive on neighboring Al-Rumeilah,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Clashes were raging on Friday as Daesh deployed its typical defensive tactics: Weaponized drones, snipers, and improvised explosive devices, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
An SDF fighter near Al-Rumeilah told AFP on Thursday that suicide attackers were using explosives-laden vehicles to hold back the SDF.
“They’re sending booby-trapped cars toward our positions, and as they fall back, they’re laying mines,” said the 30-year-old fighter, who identified himself as Abu.
Civilians “can’t move. They can’t leave during the day because of snipers.”
Abu said his unit had managed to open up an escape route for residents of Al-Rumeilah.
“Ten days ago, a strike hit our home and we ran inside quickly. My sister was hit in the stomach and started bleeding. She stayed alive for six days and then she died,” 56-year-old Abdel Halim Ulaywi said.
He had tried to escape several times “but Daesh kept forcing us back,” he told AFP.
According to Rahman, Daesh has slowed down the SDF’s push in other parts of Raqqa, including the Old City.
“The SDF is struggling to hold newly-seized positions in the Old City because of intense sniping and escalating attacks by drones carrying bombs,” he said.
Daesh captured Raqqa in early 2014, transforming the northern Syrian city into the scene of gruesome atrocities like public beheadings.
The SDF, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, spent months encircling the city before finally breaking into it on June 6.
The militia has since captured around 30 percent of the city, according to the SOHR.
Meanwhile, a Syrian first responders’ group said at least two people were killed in a barrage of airstrikes on the outskirts of Damascus as government forces intensified efforts to push fighters away from Syria’s capital.
The Syrian Civil Defense group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, posted a video of rescue workers retrieving one of the victims from the rubble of a building on Friday.
It said at least one other person was killed and several people were wounded.
The SOHR reported ten airstrikes on opposition-held areas of the contested Ein Terma suburb of Damascus in the morning alone.
Local fighter commander Abdelnasser Shamir said on Thursday that the last four weeks of fighting over the suburb have been the “most vicious” in the conflict.
Meanwhile, a top Syrian envoy to the UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva said his team has not been asked to meet face-to-face with the opposition.
Bashar Al-Ja’afari spoke to reporters after his final meeting with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura as this seventh round of indirect talks, involving the warring sides since early last year, came to a close on Friday.
A day earlier, de Mistura acknowledged that he was not “pushing” for the opposition and government delegations to meet directly until they could engage in “real” talks.

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