AIN ISSA (Web Desk) The militant Islamic State (IS) group is on the verge of defeat in Raqqa, once its de facto capital in Syria, and the city may be cleared of the militants by Sunday (today) night, according to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
A local official said tribal elders were seeking to broker a deal under which remaining IS fighters, including foreigners, would leave the city, taking civilians with them as human shields.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by air strikes and special forces from a US-led international coalition, have been battling since June to oust IS from Raqqa, a base that it had used to plan attacks against the West.
100 militants have already surrendered arms
The retaking of Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the so-called “caliphate” that IS declared in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year it was driven from the city of Mosul.
“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud, whose group dominates the SDF, said by telephone. “Daesh [IS] is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow, the city may be liberated.”
The US-led coalition said a convoy was set to depart Raqqa soon under an arrangement brokered by local officials. Its statement said the coalition was not involved in the discussions, and described the arrangement as “a civilian evacuation”.
Its spokesman, Col Ryan Dillon, said the coalition’s stance was that IS fighters must surrender unconditionally, but added that he could not comment on who would be in the convoy. He said difficult fighting was expected in the days ahead.
The coalition statement said the arrangement brokered by the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders on Oct. 12 was “designed to minimise civilian casualties and purportedly excludes foreign Daesh terrorists”.
The coalition believed the arrangement would “save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqa with less risk of civilian casualties”, it said.
Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council, set up to run Raqqa after it is freed from IS, said the 100 IS fighters who had already surrendered had been convinced to do so during talks with the tribal elders.
“Others didn’t surrender, so now they’re looking for a plan where they (IS) leave and take civilian hostages with them to another place far from the city, and then release the civilians,” he said in an interview in Ain Issa, north of Raqqa. The IS fighters would go to remaining territory held by the group in Syria, he said.
The deal could happen soon. A tribal leader said he expected the evacuation to take place on Saturday or Sunday.
A group that reports on Raqqa, “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently”, said on its Facebook page that dozens of buses had entered the city overnight from the countryside to the north.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, said Syrian IS fighters and their families had already left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families.