Syria: Battle for IS capital reaches 'final stages'

Syria: Battle for IS capital reaches 'final stages'

US -backed forces are close to liberating the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) after a mass withdrawal, meaning it is "game over" for the jihadi capital of the self-styled caliphate, a Syrian monitoring group told Newsweek on Wednesday.

SDF forces launched an offensive aimed at liberating the city of Raqqa that was held by ISIL terrorist group since 2013.

But Mr Abdul Rahman said the battle for the last 10% of the city would be tough because the jihadists had heavily mined the areas still under their control.

The jihadists seized Raqa in early 2014, transforming the northern city into a key hub in the "caliphate" they declared after taking control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.

A major operation to push past the National Hospital in the city centre began over the weekend after a lull in fighting.

At least 300,000 Raqqawis have fled in recent weeks, braving Isis sniper fire and improvised explosives devices (IEDs), as well as US-led coalition bombing.

IS has used mines, snipers, vehicle bombs, and weaponised drones against the SDF offensive.

It estimated that the SDF had now retaken more than 90% of the city.

In its statement on Wednesday, the SDF said it had helped hundreds of civilians escape the city in recent days.

At the start of this month, they took full control of the Old City and Great Mosque.

More than 330,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since civil war broke out in Syria following protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

In July, it was defeated in Iraq's second city Mosul after a nine-month offensive.

It has since evolved into a complex, multi-front conflict involving government forces, Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and armed groups, including ISIL.

The government and its backers, and the SDF and the USA, are at risk of clashing in the energy-rich eastern Syrian Deir el-Zour province, where both sides are rushing to grab territory from the embattled IS group.

The Islamic State group's loss of territory in Syria and Iraq has been staggering in the past few months.

IS also holds pockets of territory in central and southern Syria and around the capital Damascus, though some of those too are under attack.