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Backed Syrian fighters reach old city walls in Islamic State-held Raqqa

18 June 2017
Backed Syrian fighters reach old city walls in Islamic State-held Raqqa

USA -backed Syrian democratic forces have captured several strategic neighborhoods just outside of the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa.

Rudaw, a Kurdish news outlet, reported Monday that the SDF's major advances occurred in western Raqqa and cites a spokesman for the US -led effort against the Islamic State as adding more detail shortly before the advances Reuters reported.

"Coalition SOF are in Raqqa, and they are close to the front lines", said Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the US -led coalition battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The U.S. -led coalition estimates that Raqqa, which Islamic State seized from Syrian rebels in 2014 during their lightning advance in Syria and Iraq, is defended by 3,000 to 4,000 jihadists.

Intelligence agencies believed that the Jihadist group leader was hiding in the desert on the outskirts of Mosul, before fleeing to Raqqa, where he was supposedly killed.

The state television claimed that the most wanted terrorist in the world was killed in a heavy artillery and air strike in the city of Raqqa.

But outside factors, including ongoing tensions between the US and Turkey over the Kurdish role in the operation, ultimately hindered efforts to speed up the Raqqa assault.

In related news Monday, an audio message purporting to come from the spokesman of the Islamic State called on followers to launch attacks in the United States, Europe, Russia, Australia, Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Philippines during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began in late May.

Raqqa has been known as a de facto capital for the ISIS self-proclaimed Caliphate since the summer of 2014.

The region is well known to his men as the hotbed of the Sunni insurgency against USA forces that invaded Iraq and later the Shi'ite-led governments that took over the country. Government troops seized control of the main roadways leading from al-Bab into Raqqa in February.

"In Syria, we regard these forces as unlawful military formations which operate outside of the legal environment". In recent months, Jordan expressed concern that USA -backed offensives against ISIL could push some of the militants closer to the kingdom's border. The army also accused the regime forces of coordinating with ISIS militants with an aim to reach the border.

Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises Middle East governments on ISIS affairs, said: "With no land to rule openly, he can no longer claim the title caliph".

Clashes between US forces and pro-regime forces tied to Iran may be the beginning of a smaller fight in the shadow of the Islamic State campaign.

However, it could take months, or even years, to bring the Islamic State leader to justice, according to Reuters.