Final push on Raqqa to begin in days: French FM
GENEVAThe international coalition battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will begin a final push on the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold Raqqa in the coming days, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on March 24.
But on the ground, the U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheading the battle for the jihadist group’s de facto Syrian capital expressed caution about how soon the battle for Raqqa would begin.
ISIL has come under growing pressure from twin U.S.-backed ground offensives targeting Raqqa and their other main stronghold, Mosul in Iraq.
“Today, we can say that Raqa is surrounded and the battle will begin in the coming days,” Le Drian told France’s CNEWS television. “This will be a very hard battle but essential,” Drian said.
The jihadists are under attack from several directions in northern Syria, with Russia supporting its Syrian ally President Bashar al-Assad on one front and Turkey providing air cover for rebel groups battling the jihadists on another. The SDF has been working for months to encircle Raqqa.
But a spokesman for the alliance said there was still work to do. “The operation to besiege Raqqa will take several weeks and that will then lead to the official launch of the operation,” Talal Sello told AFP.
The first goal of the SDF is to control Tabqa city (next to the dam) or besiege it completely before starting the battle for Raqqa,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
“The operation is proceeding as expected on two fronts, the east and west,” said Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, a spokeswoman for the SDF Raqqa operation.
Meanwhile, the latest round of U.N.-backed Syria peace talks entered a second day in Geneva on March 24 but there was little hope of a breakthrough in negotiations that have yielded little in previous rounds.
Syrian rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman is in the thick of a new offensive in Damascus but is also participating in peace talks with the government in Geneva.
The group’s spokesman Wael Alwan says there is no contradiction in its stand. “The two complement each other,” he said. “The aim is to get rid of the totalitarian regime, either by making it fall politically through a transitional arrangement,” he said.