US-backed forces say advancing against ISIS in Syria's Raqqa

Smoke billows following an airstrike on the western frontline of Raqqa, on July 15, 2017
Smoke billows following an airstrike on the western frontline of Raqqa, on July 15, 2017PHOTO: AFP

AIN ISSA, Syria (AFP) - US-backed forces said on Monday (July 17) they had seized a new neighbourhood from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in the militant stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, have been pressing an operation to capture the stronghold since last year, and entered the city in June.

"The Al-Yarmuk district was liberated yesterday," the SDF's spokeswoman for the Raqa operation Jihan Sheikh Ahmed told AFP.

Al-Yarmuk is a large neighbourhood on the south-western outskirts of the city.

"The operation is continuing but there are many fierce clashes," Ahmed said, speaking in the town of Ain Issa, some 50km north of Raqa.

"We are taking steady and sound steps. What is important to us is not speed, but liberating civilians and eliminating Daesh," she added.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF had advanced in Al-Yarmuk but did not yet fully control the district.

The monitor said the militia held the western portion of the district but that heavy fighting was continuing.

It also reported that hundreds of civilians had fled ISIS-held parts of the city towards areas now controlled by the SDF in the last 48 hours.

The monitor estimates the US-backed force currently holds around 35 per cent of the city.

The SDF began an operation to capture Raqqa in November 2016 and spent months taking territory around the city before finally entering it in June.

It has been backed by heavy US-led coalition air strikes, including on Monday, which killed at least three civilians, according to the Observatory.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.