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Final Raqqa push in days: France

© Provided by The Rahnuma Daily

Author: AFP, ReutersSat, 2017-03-25ID: 1490389107425029200
BEIRUT/GENEVA: The international coalition battling the Daesh group will begin a final push on the terrorists’ Syrian stronghold Raqqa in the coming days, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday.
But on the ground, the US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance spearheading the fight for the militant group’s de facto Syrian capital expressed caution about how soon the battle for Raqqa would begin.
“Today, we can say that Raqqa is surrounded and the battle will begin in the coming days,” Le Drian told France’s CNEWS television. “This will be a very hard battle but essential.”
Meanwhile, US-backed local forces fighting Daesh in Syria on Friday reached one side of the Tabqa dam, one of the top prizes in their campaign to drive Daesh from Raqqa, local campaign officials said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led international coalition, is fighting Daesh at the entrance to the dam, Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, the SDF spokeswoman for the Raqqa campaign, said.
The dam, the biggest on the Euphrates, stretches 4 km across the river to the southern bank and provides one of the few land crossings remaining after the destruction of many bridges during the conflict.
Tabqa is about 40 km west of Raqqa, which Daesh has used for years as one of its main bases of operations, including to plan and direct attacks overseas, and which sits along the northern bank of the Euphrates. The US has hundreds of troops on the ground in Syria supporting the SDF.
But the alliance is still around 8 km from Raqqa at its closest point, to the northeast, and is mostly stationed further away, between 18 and 29 km from the city.
A European diplomat, who preferred anonymity, said the situation surrounding the Raqqa offensive remained complex. “The Americans are still in the review process,” he said.
US President Donald “Trump did not make a decision (on who will take Raqqa), but it is clear that on the ground it is the SDF option that is developing.”
In Geneva, Syria’s chief negotiator at UN peace talks delivered a 40 minute polemic attacking the political and armed opposition and their foreign backers, labelling them all “terrorists.”
Syrian negotiator Bashar Al-Jaafari said a US- or Turkish-backed attack on Daesh in Raqqa would be illegitimate unless coordinated with President Bashar Assad’s regime. Al-Jaafari said nobody could claim to be fighting Daesh without coordinating with Iraq and Syria.
“Those who are truly fighting Daesh are the Syrian Arab Army with the help of our allies from Russia and Iran,” he said.
Staffan de Mistura said Russia, Turkey and Iran need to take the “worrisome” Syrian cease-fire situation into account and have another meeting in Astana as soon as possible.
Separately, a Syrian military source said on Friday that Russian warplanes are taking part in air strikes against insurgents to help repel a major attack on the regime-held areas near the city of Hama.
State media reported that the army had recaptured all the positions it lost earlier in the week in an opposition assault in the north of the Jobar district of Damascus.
Main category: Middle-Eastrelated_nodes: Syrian fighters cut key supply route to Daesh-held RaqqaDozens killed in northern Syria airstrikesRival groups race for Raqqa’s control33 dead in US-led air strike on north Syria: monitor

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