Spotlight: Kurdish-led forces close in on IS stronghold of Syria's Raqqa

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-31 20:55:02|Editor: ying
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by Hummam Sheikh Ali

DAMASCUS, May 31 (Xinhua) -- The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have drawn as close as 2 km from the Islamic State (IS)-held city of Raqqa's first neighborhood in northern Syria, a well-informed Kurdish source told Xinhua on Wednesday.

The SDF has approached the Mashlab neighborhood, the first neighborhood in Raqqa's eastern part, the IS's de facto capital, the source told Xinhua, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mashlab is only 7 km away from Raqqa's city center, said the source, adding that IS militants have vacated the neighborhood and booby-trapped buildings there.

He stressed there were no military operations within Raqqa yet, suggesting deals could be underway to allow IS to evacuate specific areas there.

The source said that Mansura city, 30 km west of Raqqa, has been besieged by the SDF, noting a similar scenario to that of Tabqa city in northeastern Raqqa could occur when IS withdrew from that area last month.

The SDF will need to capture the village of Raqqa Samra, in eastern Raqqa, 8 km from the city center, in order to take Raqqa, as IS has strong defenses there, the source noted.

Talal Silo, SDF military spokesman, told Xinhua that the group is focusing on operations in western Raqqa, adding that the current advance is toward the eastern and northern parts of the city and their focus is on the western part as the SDF is still 15 km away from there.

The SDF advance toward taking Raqqa is supported by the US-led anti-terror coalition, with Washington providing military aid to the Kurdish-led groups as well as air cover for their operations in Raqqa.

The Pentagon said that the United States started delivering weapons on Tuesday to Kurdish fighters closing in on the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

Pentagon Spokesman Eric Pahon said Tuesday's weapons' delivery to the Kurds included small arms and ammunition.

However, throughout the U.S. strikes on IS-held areas in Raqqa and the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, tens of civilian casualties have fallen recently, with state news agency SANA reporting the numbers almost on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, SANA cited Russia's Defense Ministry as saying on Wednesday that Russian warships positioned in the Mediterranean Sea fired four cruise missiles at IS posts in the ancient city of Palmyra's countryside in central Syria.

The ministry said that frigate Admiral Essen and submarine Krasnodar from the Russian Navy Fleet fired four Kalibr cruise missiles on Tuesday at IS posts near Palmyra, hitting them all, with the submarine firing missiles from the seabed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Russian missile attack targeted an IS convoy moving from Raqqa toward Palmyra.

The UK-based watchdog group said the Russians wanted to prove they too are fighting IS and to draw attention to the fact that deals exist between IS and Kurdish groups concerning withdrawal from areas in Raqqa toward Palmyra.

The battle in Raqqa started several months ago, but the original beginning was in March when the U.S. carried out airdrops near Tabqa, a prelude to capturing the city and the pivotal dam there.