First Published: 2017-10-11

Talks to let civilians leave IS-held Raqa
US-led coalition said local officials from the Raqa Civil Council (RCC) are negotiating exit of civilians from remaining IS-held areas.
Middle East Online

Some 8,000 people remain trapped in Raqa

KOBANE - Local officials and Syrian tribal leaders are leading "discussions" to secure safe passage for civilians from parts of Raqa still held by the Islamic State group, the US-led coalition said Tuesday.

The coalition is backing an offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have ousted IS from around 90 percent of its one-time Syrian bastion.

On Tuesday, the coalition said local officials from the Raqa Civil Council (RCC) -- a government-in-exile based north of the battle-torn city -- were negotiating the exit of civilians from remaining IS-held areas.

"The Raqa Civil Council is leading discussions to determine the best way to enable civilians trapped by Daesh to exit the city, where some are being held as human shields by the terrorists," the coalition said in an emailed statement, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

"Those departing Raqa who are found to have fought for Daesh will be turned over to local authorities to face justice."

Contacted by AFP, RCC co-chair Laila Mustafa declined to comment on the discussions.

"We have a responsibility to defeat Daesh (IS) while preserving civilian life to the greatest extent possible," said the coalition's director of operations Jonathan Braga in the statement.

"Make no mistake: a lot of hard fighting remains and we are committed to the lasting defeat of Daesh."

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled Raqa, once the de facto Syrian capital of IS's self-styled Islamic "caliphate".

But some 8,000 people remain trapped in the city, the UN's humanitarian coordination agency OCHA said last week.

The SDF's press centre on Tuesday said nearly 200 civilians had made it out of the city in the past 24 hours into SDF-controlled territory.

The force, made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has closed off all media access to Raqa since Sunday.

Raqa activist groups on Tuesday night said the discussions would allow IS fighters to withdraw from the city unarmed, but the SDF's press centre denied the reports.

The US-led coalition has backed the SDF's months-long drive for Raqa with air strikes, weapons, intelligence, and special forces advisors.

The statement did not specify with whom the RCC was discussing the exit of civilians but said the talks came "as the fall of Daesh's so-called capital draws nearer."

The SDF had been advancing on IS-held districts from two fronts in the city's north and east, Rojda Felat, who heads the "Wrath of the Euphrates" campaign, told AFP on Sunday.

"If the two fronts meet, we can say we have entered the final week of our campaign to liberate Raqa," Felat said.


Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Two hardline Syria rebels announce merger

IS kills 25 Iraqi militiamen near Kirkuk

Sudan frees dozens of activists detained after protests

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt

Are Iranian satellite channels aiding regime change?

Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes after rocket attack

Iraq orders deportation of French jihadist

Pro-Assad militias to enter Syria's Afrin

Three Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader says progress needed on justice

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

Netanyahu warns Iran, brandishes piece of metal

66 feared dead as plane crashes in Iranian mountains

Saudi women to open businesses without male permission

Netanyahu slams 'outrageous' Holocaust remark by Polish PM

Israeli air strikes kill 2 in Gaza

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week

Tillerson, Erdogan have ‘productive, open’ talk

Iran raises rates, freezes accounts in bid to shore up rial

Kremlin says five Russians killed in US Syria strikes

Oman FM in rare visit by Arab official to Jerusalem

Senior IS leader extradited to Iraq from Turkey

Strikes hit another hospital in Syria's Idlib

Churches snub Jerusalem reception over tax dispute with Israeli authorities

Tillerson says US never gave 'heavy arms' to Kurdish YPG

Captured foreign IS suspects claim innocence

Yemeni mother awaits death penalty for spying for UAE

Fuel shortage shuts down Gaza's only power plant