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.

 

At least 235 killed in Egypt mosque attack

Saudi Crown Prince calls Iran supreme leader 'new Hitler'

Syrian opposition agrees to send united delegation to Geneva talks

Saudi-led coalition clears passenger flights to Sanaa

Baghdad's Shabandar cafe marks century since opening

Turkey says Trump pledged to stop arming Kurds

Turkey president sues main opposition party leader

Lebanon's Hariri brings status quo back with him

Activists say 'everybody knew' about Libya slave trade

Erdogan says no contact 'at the moment' with Assad

Lebanon's Jumblatt criticises Saudi Arabia, Iran

China says it will make efforts on Syria reconstruction

Turkey to detain 79 former teachers in post-coup probe

Hezbollah hails PM's suspension of resignation

Syrian opposition aims for unity at talks in Riyadh

Egypt police kill 3 Islamists in shootout

Turkey unsure if Assad to be part of Syria political transition

Migrant arrivals from Libya down since EU deal

Palestinian factions leave Cairo talks with little progress

Sudan’s Bashir looks to Putin for ‘protection’ from US aggression

China, Djibouti forge 'strategic' ties

IS propaganda channels fall quiet in 'unprecedented' hiatus

Kremlin to create Syria congress despite Turkey ‘reservations’

Netanyahu berates deputy minister for 'offensive' remarks on US Jews

Egypt PM heads to Germany for medical treatment

Egypt destroys 10 SUVs carrying arms on Libya border

Outrage in Iraq over 'child marriage' bill

Iraq launches operation to clear last IS holdouts from desert

Saudi-led coalition to reopen Yemen airport, port to aid

Turkey court rules to keep Amnesty chief in jail

France calls for UN meeting on Libya slave-trading

Egypt detains 29 for allegedly spying for Turkey

WTO panel to hear Qatar’s complaint against UAE blockade

Three dead as diphtheria spreads in Yemen

Lebanon’s Hariri suspends resignation

Israel seizes explosive material at Gaza border

Activists call for release of UK journalist held by IS

Bahrain upholds jail sentence for activist

Iraq attacks at lowest since 2014

Turkey continues crackdown in post-coup probe

Hariri back in Lebanon

Putin to hold Syria peace talks with Erdogan, Rouhani

US carries out air strikes against IS in Libya

Divided Syria opposition meets in Riyadh

Lebanon's Hariri in Egypt ahead of return home