US-backed force advances in fight for Daesh-held Raqqa

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) female fighters gather at the eastern outskirts of Raqqa city, Syria June 7, 2017. Picture taken June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said
Updated 09 June 2017

US-backed force advances in fight for Daesh-held Raqqa

Beirut: US-backed Syrian fighters Friday seized part of a district on the western edge of the Daesh group’s Raqqa bastion and battled to advance inside the city’s east, a monitor said.
The Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) broke into Raqqa city for the first time earlier this week, months after they launched an operation to capture the jihadist stronghold.
They are backed by the US-led coalition which carried out heavy air strikes on Raqqa and its surroundings overnight and into Friday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said SDF fighters took parts of the suburb of Jazra just west of Raqqa’s city limits on Friday.
The monitor said heavy clashes were continuing in other parts of the neighborhood, where at least 15 civilians were killed on Thursday night in the air strikes that hit an Internet cafe.
The casualties in Jazra were among 23 civilians killed in over two dozen US-led coalition strikes on and near Raqqa on Thursday night, the Observatory said.
SDF spokesman Talal Sello said fighters were advancing on several fronts on Friday.
“The SDF has control of Al-Meshleb district (inside eastern Raqqa) and is clearing it of mines and explosives at the moment,” he told AFP.
He said SDF forces had also advanced on the northern front outside the city.
Al-Meshleb was the first neighborhood in Raqqa city entered by SDF fighters.
They are expected to progress from the district into neighboring Al-Senaa, and the Observatory said some of the overnight strikes targeted area between the two districts.
Daesh fighters have been fighting back against the advancing forces with snipers as well as drones armed with explosives, according to the SDF.
They have also reportedly dug defensive trenches and tunnels to try to slow the SDF advance.
“Hundreds” of US military personnel are taking part in the Raqqa offensive, according to the Pentagon, which said Thursday it believed up to 2,500 Daesh fighters were still holed up in Raqqa.
Captured by the jihadists in 2014, Raqqa has become synonymous with Daesh atrocities including beheadings and public displays of bodies, and also emerged as a hub for planning attacks abroad.
An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under Daesh rule in Raqqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.
But thousands have fled in recent months, and the UN humanitarian office estimates about 160,000 people remain in the city.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF warned Friday that “an estimated 40,000 children remain trapped in dangerous conditions in Raqqa city.”
“Many are caught in the crossfire,” said UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere.
“Children are deprived of the most basic and life-saving necessities,” he added, urging safe passage for those who want to leave the city.
Tens of thousands of people have fled Raqqa and the surrounding area since the SDF launched its Operation Wrath of the Euphrates to capture the Daesh bastion last November.
Many have described harrowing journeys as they fled Raqqa city, with Daesh fighters targeting them as they tried to escape.
Elsewhere in Syria, a US warplane shot down a pro-regime drone on Thursday night near the Jordanian border in the latest incident in escalating tensions in the country’s south.
The US-led coalition said the drone was downed after it fired at coalition forces near the Al-Tanaf garrison, where anti-Daesh Syrian rebels are being trained.
The shooting down came after another incident earlier Thursday in which coalition forces struck “technical vehicles” advancing toward Al-Tanaf.
It was the third time the coalition has struck pro-regime forces near Al-Tanaf in less than a month.
Syria’s government is eager to deploy forces in the area and head off any dispatch of foreign-trained Syrian rebels to fight Daesh in the country’s eastern Deir Ezzor province.


Lebanon not expecting new aid pledges at Paris meeting

Updated 41 min 6 sec ago

Lebanon not expecting new aid pledges at Paris meeting

  • The political impasse returned to square one on Sunday when a tentative agreement on a new PM unraveled
  • Lebanon has also been in a political impasse since Saad Al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29

BEIRUT/PARIS: Lebanon does not expect new aid pledges at conference which France is hosting on Wednesday to press for the quick formation of a new government that can tackle an acute financial crisis.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Lebanon to create a new government swiftly or risk the crisis worsening and threatening the country’s stability.
The economic crisis is the worst since the 1975-90 civil war: a liquidity crunch has led banks to enforce capital controls and the Lebanese pound to slump by one third.
Lebanon has also been in a political impasse since Saad Al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, prompted by protests against the ruling elite, with no agreement on a new government.
Nadim Munla, senior adviser to Hariri, who is running the government as caretaker, told Reuters the Paris meeting would probably signal a readiness to offer support once a government is formed that commits to reforms.
“They will recognize that there is a short-term problem and that if and when a government (is formed) that basically responds to the aspirations of people, most probably the international community will be ready to step in and provide support to Lebanon, or additional support,” he said.
“It is not a pledging conference.”
Lebanon won pledges of over $11 billion at a conference last year conditional on reforms that it has failed to implement. The economic crisis is rooted in years of corruption and waste that have generated one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
The political impasse returned to square one on Sunday when a tentative agreement on a new prime minister unraveled.
Hariri is now seen as the only candidate for the post.
He has said he would only lead a cabinet of specialist ministers, believing this is the way to address the economic crisis, attract aid, and satisfy protesters who have been in the streets since Oct. 17 seeking the removal of a political class blamed for corruption and misrule.
But Hezbollah and its allies including President Michel Aoun say the government must include politicians.
“Let’s see the coming few days and if there will be an agreement among the political parties on a formation ... otherwise we might take longer,” Munla said. Hariri would be willing to have politicians in cabinet but they should not be “the regular known faces of previous governments.”