Fight to Drive IS from Syria Bastion Raqa Nears End
The jihadists' self-described caliphate is crumbling. IS is believed to be holding civilians as human shields in the hospital, complicating efforts to capture the position. The militia has captured around 90 percent of Raqa since entering the city in June. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the city.
Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - US-backed fighters say they are nearing the "final week" of their assault to drive the Islamic State group from their one-time Syrian bastion Raqa, as the jihadists' self-described caliphate crumbles.
Losing Raqa would be only the latest in a series of crushing defeats for the extremist group, which once controlled large swathes of territory spanning the border between Syria and Iraq.
Captured by IS in 2014, the northern city was the de facto Syrian capital of the jihadists' self-styled "caliphate" until the US-backed assault by the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.
The militia has captured around 90 percent of Raqa since entering the city in June, after months of fighting to encircle it.
They are now advancing on IS-held districts from two fronts in the city's north and east, said commander Rojda Felat, who heads the "Wrath of the Euphrates" campaign.
Felat said fighting was still fierce along the front line, with IS using snipers, suicide bombers and reinforced positions in tunnels to hold up the SDF advance.
The jihadists still hold Raqa's national hospital, the nearby football stadium and surrounding residential neighbourhoods, including the infamous Al-Naim roundabout, where IS staged public beheadings and crucifixions.
IS is believed to be holding civilians as human shields in the hospital, complicating efforts to capture the position.
Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition backing the SDF's assault, said IS was using the hospital as a military base and it was "heavily fortified".
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled Raqa city and the surrounding area since the SDF began its offensive, but many others have remained trapped inside during the heavy fighting.
The loss of Raqa city would leave IS with just a handful of positions in Syria and Iraq.
The group was forced from Iraq's Mosul in July and last week was driven from Hawija, meaning it holds just a sliver of territory in the Euphrates Valley near the Syrian border.