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Syrian Democratic Forces liberates two villages from ISIS in west of Raqqa

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Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated two villages from Islamic State (ISIS) control during the third phase of the Operation Wrath of Euphrates to isolate the ISIS-held Syrian city of Raqqa. The two villages are situated near Swediyah al-Kabirah to the west of Raqqa. The SDF are currently advancing towards Raqqa on three fronts, and while progress during the third phase has been rapid, some fierce clashes have broken out as ISIS militants look to stem the SDF’s advance. After cutting several strategic roads, the SDF are moving closer to their aim of surrounding and isolating the Syrian city entirely, in anticipation of an operation to liberate the city from the jihadist group. That operation is believed to start within the coming weeks. The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters who have been successfully fighting ISIS in northern Syria, has been steadily moving in on the jihadist group in Raqqa for the past five months. The operation to isolate the ISIS-stronghold of Raqqa began on November 5, 2016.

Kurdish leader: Syria's Raqqa expected to join Kurdish-led federalism.

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The northern Syrian city of Raqqa is expected to join a decentralized system of government being set up by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies once it is freed from Islamic State, a leading Kurdish politician told Reuters on Monday. The political project is causing deep alarm in Turkey, which sees the YPG and its political affiliate, the PYD, as an extension of Kurdish groups that are fighting an insurgency on Turkish soil. Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, said it would be up to the people of Raqqa to decide their future once the city is freed from Islamic State, but he thinks the city will join the “democratic federal” system. He added that Raqqa needed to be in “friendly hands” otherwise it would form a “danger to all Syria, particularly northern Syria, the federal system of northern Syria, the areas of self administration”.

U.S. led coalition in Raqqa province, expanding a campaign by the Syrian Democratic Forces militias against ISIS

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The U.S.-led coalition has air-dropped U.S. and allied Syrian forces near Tabqa in Raqqa province, expanding a campaign by the Syrian Democratic Forces militias against Islamic State, the SDF said on Wednesday. The operation aims both to capture the al-Tabqa area, across the Euphrates from the SDF’s other main holdings, and to curb Syrian government advances in that direction, the SDF’s Raqqa campaign said in a statement on social media. The landing forces had seized four small villages in the area west of al-Tabqa and cut a main highway that links the provinces of Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Aleppo, the SDF, a U.S.-backed alliance of militias added.

Dozens persons killed in air raid on Al Raqqah school by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition

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Dozens of displaced persons have been killed in an air raid allegedly carried out by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition on a school where they were sheltering in the ISIS-controlled Al-Raqqah province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Wednesday. It reported that at least 33 people were killed in the bombardment by warplanes believed to belong to the International Coalition, carried out in the city of Mansura in western Al-Raqqah province on Tuesday night. SOHR activists said that 33 bodies being pulled out of the rubble of the school before members of ISIS arrived to drive civilians away.

Turkey and United States evaluate options for joint Raqqa operation

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Turkey and the U.S. are discussing options for a joint operation to retake Daesh’s so-called capital of Raqqa, a photo released by the Turkish military has revealed. Turkish military Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar met with his counterparts U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford and Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov in the southern city of Antalya on Tuesday. The Turkish military released photos of the meeting, and in one of the photos, a document can be seen in front of a Turkish general with the title “Raqqa Offensive: Turkey-U.S. joint planning”. The photo revealed that Ankara and Washington are currently evaluating options to draw up a joint plan for the Raqqa offensive. A U.S. commander of the anti-Daesh coalition told reporters last week that military leaders are still discussing Turkey’s participation in the Raqqa operation, and that a decision is yet to be made on whether to include the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the PKK’s Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) armed wing, the YPG in the offensive. Ankara strictly opposes any involvement of the PYD/YPG in the Raqqa operation, as Turkey considers it a terrorist group. Ankara has suggested that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has successfully liberated Jarablus, Dabiq and al-Bab as part of Turkey-backed Operation Euphrates Shield, lead the operation in cooperation with the Turkish military. The YPG, under the guise of the SDF, is on its way to Raqqa. In fact, according to sources close to the YPG, the terrorist group is positioned only a few kilometers away from Raqqa, a Syrian city on the northeast bank of the Euphrates River. Ankara has claimed that several thousand FSA fighters were ready to engage against Daesh to liberate Raqqa.

 

 

The top generals from Turkey, the United States and Russia met Tuesday to discuss tensions in northern Syria

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The top generals from Turkey, the United States and Russia met Tuesday to discuss tensions in northern Syria, where mutually suspicious forces allied with the three countries are fighting the Islamic State group. The surprise meeting  took place in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya. The talks, announced by Turkey, come amid rising tensions in northern Syria, where Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces and Russian-allied Syrian troops are fighting their way toward the IS group’s de facto capital, Raqqa.

Erdoğan: Turkey's next target in Syria is to liberate Manbij and Raqqa

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Erdoğan said Thursday that Manbij and Raqqa belong to the Arabs and Turkey’s next target in Syria is to liberate these two cities, respectively controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), controlled mostly by the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the Daesh terror group. Speaking to journalists on the presidential plane during his return trip from Pakistan, Erdoğan reiterated that Turkey will not allow an independent terrorist state to be present along its border. “After the liberation of al-Bab from Daesh terrorists, Turkey’s new target in Syria is Manbij. Manbij is a city that belongs to the Arabs, and the SDF must also not be in Raqqa”, the Turkish president said. Answering a question regarding U.S. support to the SDF, Erdoğan noted that the new Trump administration does not seem to have yet reached a final decision as to how the operation to free Raqqa from Daesh should be organized. “Their chief of staff [U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford], and the new head of the CIA [Mike Pompeo] came to Turkey and we too told them that the SDF must be excluded from the Raqqa operation. The presence of armed terrorists along its borders is unacceptable for Turkey”, Erdoğan said.

Ankara suggests ‘Mosul model’ for Raqqa operation

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Turkey has suggested what it calls a “Mosul model” for the potential Raqqa operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), highlighting that Raqqa is also a predominantly Arab city that must be saved by mostly Arab forces. “More than 90 percent of the Raqqa population is Arab. If you assign a terror organization with a different ethnic background to save the city, you would cause a big instability. The same was also valid for Mosul”, Defense Minister Fikri Işık told reporters on Feb. 23, apparently referring to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Işık held an extensive meeting with the United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis last week in Munich as part of a series of discussions with the new U.S. administration for coordinating the future phases of the fight against ISIL. Turkey requests that the U.S. cease its cooperation with the PYD, which it sees as affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  The Raqqa operation could be carried out with the participation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has developed and improved during Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria and particularly the al-Bab operation, he added.

Erdoğan said that after Manbij Raqqa is the only Daesh stronghold in Syria.

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Turkey’s next target after al-Bab’s liberation is the Syrian town of Manbij, and it is crucial to clear PKK’s Syrian-offshoot Democratic Union Party (PYD) from the area, President RecepTayyip Erdoğan said on Friday. In an interview with Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, Erdoğan said that PKK’s Syrian-offshoot People’s Protection Units (YPG) and PYD, which are still in Manbij, need to be cleared as soon as possible because the area is demographically dominated by Arabs. “We’ve told the Obama administration before that Manbij needs to be handed over to the Arabs and they told us that the PYD/YPG was leaving, but unfortunately they never left” Erdoğan said and added that after Manbij, Raqqa is the only Daesh stronghold in Syria.

Assad: Liberating Raqqa isn't a Syrian government priority

Liberating Syria’s northern city of Raqqa, a Daesh stronghold, is not a top priority for the Syrian government, even though it is on the list of important objectives, Syrian President Bashar Assad said. He stressed that Raqqa is “no more than a symbol of the Islamic State [Daesh]”, and that “the IS [Daesh] is present everywhere” – near Damascus, in Palmyra, eastern Syria. Priorities are everywhere. And they depend on the military development. But for us everything is important — Raqqa, Idlib, Palmyra”, Assad told French radio station Europe1 in an interview published on Thursday.

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