SDF advances against IS in southern Raqa

BEIRUT: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are on the verge of seizing full control of the southern neighbourhoods of IS-held Raqa, a Kurdish official said on Tuesday.
The US-led coalition said SDF fighters advancing from the east were within 300 metres of meeting up with those advancing from the west. The SDF was making “consistent gains” every day, the coalition spokesman said.
On Monday, the World Health Organization said there were critical shortages of medical supplies in Raqa, where it estimated up to 50,000 civilians remained. Separately, Medecins Sans Frontieres said many sick and wounded people were trapped.
The SDF launched its US-backed campaign to seize Raqa in early June. The assault on IS’s de facto capital in Syria overlapped with the campaign to drive IS from the Iraqi city of Mosul, where IS was defeated last month.
The Kurdish official said SDF fighters advancing from the east and the west remain separated by a few streets where fighting continued.
Full control of the southern districts would sever IS’s last remaining path to the Euphrates River which is to the south of the city.
“There is a fierce resistance from IS, so we can’t determine when exactly we’ll take (full control),” said the official. “Around 90 per cent of the southern neighbourhoods are liberated,” the official added.
The spokesman for the US-led coalition said SDF fighters had also captured around 10 square km of territory from IS north of Raqa in the last two days.
“We’ve seen a less coherent IS defence in Raqa compared to Mosul. IS is still using car bombs, booby-traps, and civilians to hide behind, but their inability to address the multiple advances from the SDF is apparent,” coalition spokesman Col Ryan Dillon said in response to e-mailed questions from Reuters.
In an appeal for $20 million to respond to the crisis in northeastern Syria, the World Health Organization on Monday described the situation in Raqa as “particularly worrying”.
“Raqa’s main hospital and many other healthcare facilities have closed due to air strikes,” it said. — Reuters