The Islamic State withdraws from Raqqa after 3 years



Sun, 15 Oct 2017 - 02:27 GMT


Sun, 15 Oct 2017 - 02:27 GMT

An armoured vehicle of the Syrian Democratic Forces is seen along a road at the frontline in Raqqa, Syria, Oct. 8, 2017.

An armoured vehicle of the Syrian Democratic Forces is seen along a road at the frontline in Raqqa, Syria, Oct. 8, 2017.

CAIRO – 15 October 2017: A group of Islamic State fighters evacuated the Syrian city of Raqqa overnight, taking civilians with them as human shields, a militia spokesman told Reuters on Sunday.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, continued to battle Islamic State jihadists who remain in the city, SDF spokesman Mostafa Bali said. Foreign fighters did not leave under the withdrawal deal, he added.

"The operation has finished and the battle continues," Bali said. "Last night, the final batch of fighters [who agreed to leave] left the city."

Earlier, the U.S.-led coalition backing the assault on the city said a convoy would leave Raqqa but specifically ruled out the exit of foreign IS fighters.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has been battling since June to capture Raqqa.

They hold around 90 percent of the city, but have struggled to take the remaining IS- held areas over fears of large numbers of civilians being held as human shields.

Its loss would be the latest in a string of blows to the group, which has ceded large swathes of territory including Iraq's second city Mosul.

Raqqa was the first major Syrian city to fall to the Islamic State, as it declared a "caliphate" and rampaged through Syria and Iraq in 2014. Raqqa became an operations centre for attacks abroad and the stage for some of IS’s darkest atrocities.

Civilians and Civil Defence members work at a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes – Reuters
The United Nations estimates that 8,000 people are trapped in Raqqa and called on all parties of the conflict to take all measures needed to protect civilians.

A senior United Nations aid official urged the international committee to do whatever is needed to allow Syrian citizens to escape from Raqqa; adding that there is no worse place on earth than Raqqa, according to UN report.

The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) established the respective taskforces on humanitarian aid delivery and a wider ceasefire. They have been meeting separately since early 2016 on a way forward in the crisis.

Activists say more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in Raqqa since the battle to retake the city began in June. Nearly 270,000 people have fled Raqqa since April.



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