SDF expects Raqqa victory in 'few days'
A U.S.-backed force battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria will be in control of Raqqa "within a few days" after attacking the last militant-held pocket of the city, a spokesman for the force said yesterday.
Mustafa Bali of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also said that fierce street battles were underway near the main hospital in Raqqa, once the de facto capital of the extremists' self-proclaimed caliphate.
SDF militants led by the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) launched an operation to retake the last ISIL-held pocket of the city after some 275 militants and their family members surrendered over the weekend. The extremists still hold about 10 percent of Raqqa, including the hospital and the main stadium, which is believed to be used by the militants as a jail and an arms depot.
Activists said those who surrendered were taken to an SDF-run prison in the nearby town of Tabqa, where they are being interrogated before being put on trial.
"We believe that it will be all over within a few days," Bali said.
"Those [ISIL] fighters who are still inside will fight to death,” he added.
Bali also said that SDF militants are marching toward the hospital and the stadium under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.
A YPG commander with SDF in Raqqa said that since late on Oct. 15 until the early hours of yesterday, civilians had trickled out of ISIL-held part of the city. The commander, whose identity wasn’t disclosed, said that more than 400 civilians have reached SDF militants "and are now with us."
More civilians are still expected to come out, he said, adding that 15 more ISIL fighters have surrendered. The fighting has calmed down to allow civilians to leave.
"We know there are groups of Daesh, specially the foreigners. We want to speed up the campaign, no more than two or three days," the commander said, using the Arabic name for ISIL.
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces and their allies began a major offensive on ISIL-held neighborhoods in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, according to state TV and the opposition's Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory said government forces are pushing through two neighborhoods under the cover of airstrikes by Russian warplanes.
The move by government forces came just two days after Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops captured the ISIL stronghold of Mayadeen, south of Deir el-Zour.