US-backed Syrian fighters reach Raqqa gates

BEIRUT: US-backed fighters on Tuesday reached the northern entrance of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of Daesh, amid intense clashes and airstrikes on Raqqa’s northern and eastern edges, opposition activists said.
The latest push by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) brings them to about 3 km from the city where a long and deadly battle is expected in the coming weeks, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The latest push comes as airstrikes have intensified in recent days. US-backed fighters have pushed in toward the city, getting closer from all sides. The SDF have captured dozens of towns and villages since November, when the group began an operation entitled Euphrates Wrath, aiming to eventually surround and capture Raqqa.
SDF fighters have surrounded Raqqa from the north, west and east. The extremists still have an exit from the south, even though the US-led coalition destroyed southern two bridges over the Euphrates River.
The Observatory said SDF fighters captured gas and water facilities on the northern edge of Raqqa. The group posted a video showing Daesh black flags still flying over the northern entrance of Raqqa with a giant Daesh banner reading “the northern sector thanks you for your visit. The Islamic State.”
The activist-operated Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said that the US-led coalition targeted areas of fighting north of the city near a major Daesh base known as Division 17.
The Sound and Picture Organization, which documents Daesh violations, said SDF fighters approached the Mashlab neighborhood east of Raqqa. The RBSS said SDF fighters captured a checkpoint at the entrance of Mashlab but did not enter the area.
The Observatory and RBSS reported that a landmine exploded near a vehicle west of the city killing three people and wounding 10.
Earlier Tuesday, Syria’s state media and the Observatory said at least 13 civilians were killed when Daesh militants shelled regime-held neighborhoods in the eastern city of Deir Ez-Zor.

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