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Published On: Thu, Oct 19th, 2017

Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa liberated by Syrian Arab Army and Syrian Democratic Forces

nsnbc : Two days ago the city of Raqqa was liberated from the Islamic State with the Syrian Arab Army pushing for Deir Ez Zor and the Syrian Democratic Forces focusing on specific areas in Raqqa, in rivalry against each other but with the goal to liberate the city and Deir Ez Zor province from the remnants of the self-proclaimed caliphate. Tensions remain, and the city is far from safe as it is, with mines and explosives and probably sleeper cells left behind.

Sayrian Arab Army_Syria_archivesTwo days ago Syrian Arab Army units, operating in Deir Ez Zor, restored control over Islah al-Husseineh and the Paper Factory there as they launched a military operation to root out the last gatherings of ISIS terrorists in Hawijit Saqar on the eastern bank of Euphrates River. On the axis of al-Mayadeen, the army’s engineering units reportedly  continued dismantling landmines and IEDs.

Not far from the Syrian Arab Army held areas are the areas held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which also are combing the ruins of the city for survivor, bombs and explosives. A lightning final assault by the Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday, simultaneously with the Syrian Arab Army operations, saw jihadist defenses collapse faster than most had expected them to collapse.

Raqqa Naim Square_YPG_Oct 18, 2017SDF fighters flushed jihadist holdouts from Raqa’s main hospital and municipal stadium, wrapping up more than four months of fighting to seize what used to be the inner sanctum of IS’s self-proclaimed “caliphate”. On Wednesday, SDF forces fired into the air and danced the traditional Middle Eastern dabke line dance to blaring music amid the otherwise eerie silence of the city.

Inside the stadium, the militia’s flag was raised as bulldozers worked to clear the ground of explosives that IS had strewn throughout the city. Many roads were still closed off, and access to the hospital was blocked while fighters worked to clear it. Teams of SDF fighters were deployed across the rubble-strewn streets to look for unexploded ordnance and booby traps left by the jihadists.

However, the city is still very unsafe. The Kurdish internal security services told reporters “We urge our people… who fled IS rule not to return to the city for their own security until it is rid of terrorist explosives”.

SDF forces in Raqqa_Oct 18_YPG press office_2017Under the stadium, SDF member Ahmad al-Hassan returned to an oval hallway lined with makeshift cells where IS locked up civilians accused of breaking its ultra-conservative rules. “This is where they humiliated us,” he said, near the room where he was kept for seven days with 35 other men after he tried to prevent his wife’s arrest for briefly showing her face in public.

The loss of Raqa left IS ruling over a rump “caliphate” straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border and covering a fraction of the territory it held when it declared its “state” in July 2014. The US-led coalition supporting anti-IS forces in Iraq and Syria said on Tuesday that the jihadists had lost 87 percent of the territory they held three years ago. Brett McGurk, the White House’s envoy to the multinational coalition, said on social media that IS had lost 6,000 fighters in Raqa. He described the organisation as “pathetic and a lost cause”.

The breakthrough in the operation to retake Raqa came last week when a local deal was struck for the safe exit of several thousand civilians who had been used as human shields by IS, while Syrian jihadists surrendered. Up to 400 mostly foreign IS fighters had been believed to remain in the city, prepared for a bloody last stand. Yet information about their fate is difficult to come by for reporters have problems accessing the city.

“Some surrendered, others died,” Talal Sello, another SDF spokesman said, without providing further details. Colonel Ryan Dillon, the US-led coalition’s spokesman, only spoke of four confirmed cases of foreign IS fighters surrendering and stressed that they were in SDF custody. “We as the coalition do not hold or control any of these detainees,” he said, adding the SDF may make separate arrangements with the detained jihadists’ countries of origin for some of them to be handed over and prosecuted.

CH/L – nsnbc 19.10.2017

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