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Al-Tabqa residents remove all traces of ISIS

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Two women walk through the northern Syrian city of al-Tabqa after its May 10th liberation. Sandbags and debris from the battles are still in evidence on the city's streets. [Photo courtesy of the Syrian Democratic Forces]

Just a few days after the May 10th liberation of al-Tabqa in northern Syria's al-Raqa province, residents who had fled the city began to return.

Shopkeeper Saleh al-Ahmad said he was allowed to return two days after the city was liberated, when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had completed their sweep to clear mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Residents were allowed to return to the city's older districts before the operation to clear the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) from the districts of al-Tabqa al-Jadida was complete, he told Diyaruna.

The joy of returning was overwhelming, he said.

"The situation in the city of al-Tabqa is very reassuring, especially after the rumours that some tried to spread of the possibility that residents would be prohibited from returning to their homes and displaced to other areas," he said.

In sharp contrast, he noted, houses that had been "forcibly opened by ISIS elements were closed with locks and chains and the keys were handed to their owners upon their return".

Securing bread

Many basic necessities are scarce in the city because of the previous siege, al-Ahmad said, but SDF-affiliated committees, in co-operation with al-Raqa's local civil council, hastened to secure flour and reopen the city’s bakeries.

The SDF discovered storage areas full of wheat ISIS had hidden, and made an agreement with a mill owner to produce flour and distribute it to the bakeries.

"The mill owner agreed to do this free of charge," al-Ahmad said, "as did the bakeries, seven of which are currently operating to meet the city's needs."

Other commodities the city needs include yeast for the bakeries and other food items, such as oils and meat, he said, adding that he expects life to return to normal "in about one month under the current circumstances".

Al-Tabqa dam maintenance

Maintenance teams were sent to assess and fix any damage to al-Tabqa dam as soon as it was recaptured, maintenance technician Mustafa al-Fawaz told Diyaruna.

"They had all tools on hand to begin work immediately," he said, adding that the SDF helped secure whatever equipment they could to repair the damage to some sections of the dam.

"The main work currently being performed by the crews is limited to getting the drinking water pumps that supply the city’s distribution networks with water back online," he said.

This work is expected to take at least a week.

Meanwhile, he said, the lack of water supply has forced residents to use primitive methods to haul water from collection areas near the dam at the edges of the city.

The electricity network also sustained damage, and some areas of the city do not have power, al-Fawaz said, adding that work is ongoing to gradually restore electricity to all areas.

Removal of battle debris

"Now that their city is liberated, the people of al-Tabqa are determined to get rid of anything that reminds them of the period during which the city was occupied by ISIS," SDF officer Farhad Khoja told Diyaruna.

Volunteer groups have begun removing debris left by the battles and sandbags stacked in the main streets to protect from shelling and gunfire, he said.

There is full co-operation between residents and the SDF, he added.

"Residents of the city and its villages include ethnic Kurds and Arabs," Khoja said. "The rumours aimed at sowing discord between them have failed, for the main and common goal was to get rid of ISIS, and that has happened."

"Now there is a new common goal, and it is to remove the ruins of the war and restore the city to its former self, and this will happen very soon, in view of the spirit of brotherhood that prevails among everyone," he said.

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