Syrian Kurds say ISIL shoring up de facto capital Raqqa
BEIRUT - Reuters
In this undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, in ISIL-held territory, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ride tanks during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. AP PhotoIslamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters appear to be shoring up their defences around their Syrian stronghold Raqqa city after losing ground to Kurdish-led forces this week, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia said on June 24.
A Kurdish-led advance deep into the heart of ISIL territory is reversing the momentum of the militants, who seized major towns in both Syria and Iraq last month.
Kurdish-led forces backed by U.S. coalition air strikes seized the town of Ain Issa in northern Syria from ISIL on June 23 after capturing a military base overnight.
Kurds and their Syrian rebel allies came within 50 km (30 miles) of Raqqa city, ISIL's de facto capital, from which it rules over a self-declared caliphate across large areas of Syria and Iraq.
On June 24 YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said in an online message the Kurds had received information that ISIL had "begun digging trenches in the vicinity of Raqqa to improve their defences" following the Kurdish advances.
The YPG said on June 23 it was not yet planning an assault on Raqqa and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group has said the operations were aimed at seizing control of an east-west highway which links the city of Aleppo with the northeastern province of Hasaka.
On June 23 the Kurdish-led forces took control of Ain Issa town as ISIL withdrew, after capturing the nearby Liwa-93 military base, a strategic site which ISIL had captured last year from government forces.
The YPG fighters have emerged as the most credible ally of the U.S.-led campaign on the ground in Syria against ISIL and the YPG says there is close coordination.