First Published: 2017-07-14

US-backed fighters launch new push against IS in Raqa
Syrian Democratic Forces seize eastern Batani district of Raqa, but struggling to hold positions against suicde car bombers.
Middle East Online

Syrian woman reacts as she asks Kurdish fighters to recover the bodies of her relatives from under the rubble in western Raqa

DAMASCUS - US-backed forces have captured a new district from jihadists in Syria's Raqa but struggled Friday to hold their positions against suicide car bombers, a fighter in the city and a monitor said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, seized the eastern Batani district from the Islamic State group on Thursday.

"Late Thursday, they began an offensive on neighbouring Al-Rumeilah," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Clashes were raging on Friday as IS deployed its typical defensive tactics: weaponised drones, snipers, and improvised explosive devices, Abdel Rahman said.

On the ground in the Al-Mashleb and Al-Senaa neighbourhoods in the city's east, correspondents saw buildings entirely destroyed by air strikes and others peppered with bullet holes.

Spent bullet casings were scattered along streets of the neighbourhoods along with the burnt-out carcasses of cars.

There were no civilians in either neighbourhood, only fighters, some of whom sat outside houses or on balconies while others napped on the floor of a home.

Overhead was the sound of US-led coalition air planes, and at one point a huge blast that fighters said was a strike on the front lines set thick smoke skywards.

An SDF fighter near Al-Rumeilah said on Thursday that suicide attackers were using explosives-laden vehicles to hold back the SDF.

"They're sending booby-trapped cars towards our positions, and as they fall back, they're laying mines," said the 30-year-old fighter, who identified himself as Abu.

Civilians "can't move. They can't leave during the day because of snipers."

Abu said his unit had managed to open up an escape route for residents of Al-Rumeilah, like 56-year-old Abdel Halim Ulaywi.

"Ten days ago, a strike hit our home and we ran inside quickly. My sister was hit in the stomach and started bleeding. She stayed alive for six days and then she died," Ulaywi said.

He had tried to escape several times "but IS kept forcing us back", he said.

According to Abdel Rahman, IS has slowed down the SDF's push in other parts of Raqa, including the Old City.

"The SDF is struggling to hold newly seized positions in the Old City because of intense sniping and escalating attacks by drones carrying bombs," he said.

IS captured Raqa in early 2014, transforming the northern Syrian city into the scene of gruesome atrocities like public beheadings.

The SDF, backed by US-led coalition air strikes, spent months encircling the city before finally breaking into it on June 6.

The militia has since captured around 30 percent of the city, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

 

US, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Gemstone purchase essential for Najaf pilgrims

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child

Saudi to lift ban on internet phone calls

Sisi calls for peace, co-existence in Mideast

Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds call off referendum

US looking to revisit Iran nuclear deal

Trump expects Gulf dispute to be resolved quickly

Bashir calls on Darfur displaced to return

Saudi Aramco could release accounts in early 2018

Saudi-led coalition says rebels hindering Yemen food imports

Jihadist activity prompts regime, Russian air strikes in Syria safe zone

Two prominent rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights

Iraqi forces launch assault on IS in western Anbar province

Families of the missing, the forgotten victims of war in Lebanon

25 killed in South Sudan clashes

Suicide attack on Iraq restaurant kills three