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SDF advances south of ISIS stronghold al-Raqa

By AFP

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Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces move through destroyed buildings in al-Raqa on July 28th. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

The Syrian Democratic Forces battling to oust the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) from its Syrian bastion al-Raqa have advanced in the city's south, seizing a new neighbourhood, AFP reported Tuesday (August 1st).

The SDF began a campaign to capture al-Raqa from ISIS last year, slowly encircling the city before breaking into it for the first time in June.

Backed by international coalition airstrikes, the alliance now controls more than 50% of the city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Overnight, the SDF advanced in the south of the city, after taking control of the Nazlet Shahada neighbourhood," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

He said SDF fighters also controlled large parts of the adjacent neighbourhood of Hisham Bin Abdel Malik, after advancing in the south from both the eastern and western fronts.

"ISIS effectively no longer has a presence in the southern neighbourhoods of al-Raqa, after SDF forces coming from the eastern front met with those advancing from the western front," he added.

Nuri Mahmud, a spokesman for the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF, confirmed to AFP that the SDF was advancing in the south.

"ISIS has been almost completely eliminated from the Nazlet Shahada and Hisham Bin Abdel Malik neighbourhoods," he added.

ISIS exploits civilians to prolong presence

Abdel Rahman said the fighting was now centered around the area south of the city centre and on the outskirts of the district of Hisham Bin Abdel Malik.

"The SDF is a few hundred metres from ISIS's main headquarters in Clock Square, which is where the group carried out executions," he said.

SDF fighters were also on the outskirts of al-Thakana neighbourhood, one of the city's most densely-populated, he said.

SDF fighters have faced fierce resistance since they entered al-Raqa in early June, and the fighting has displaced thousands of civilians.

The liberating forces are advancing slowly in an effort to protect civilian lives.

Mahmud said ISIS was "exploiting civilians and using mines, car bombs, drones, tunnels and suicide bombers to prolong its presence inside al-Raqa".

The UN estimates between 20,000 to 50,000 civilians may still be in the city, though other estimates put the numbers lower.

Aid groups warned Monday that food access had reached a "critical turning point" with markets shuttered and residents dependent on dwindling stockpiles.

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