Civilians and Islamic State ship out of Raqqa ahead of Syria airstrikes


As rebels and Islamic State sign historic ceasefire in Damascus, civilians and IS militants alike evacuate Raqqa fearing US airstrikes

Civilians queue up at a bank guarded by militants in Raqqa, July 2013 (AFP)
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Last update: 
Friday 10 July 2015 15:31 UTC

Huge numbers of people have continued fleeing areas of Syria controlled by militants from the self-styled Islamic State (IS), in advance of planned US-led airstrikes on IS strongholds.

Thousands have joined a mass exodus that began on Wednesday, as US President Obama announced in a televised speech that his plan for confronting the IS threat includes launching airstrikes on its militants within Syrian territory.

Residents have been leaving towns in IS strongholds in droves, fearing that the bombardment will cause civilian casualties as well as targeting militants.

Ferat al-Wafa, head of Broadcasters Without Borders who hails from al-Raqqa province, told Anadolu that residents of the area, “who buried around 50 martyrs killed by Assad’s planes on Thursday, are living every day in a state of fear.”

“The city of Raqqa has seen an active wave of fleeing to rural areas, which they see as being safer, in order to be further from the sites where IS are amassed.”

According to Wafa this wave of flight will exacerbate an “appalling” health situation in the city, where several of the hospitals are out of service.

“There is a lack of healthcare workers, and of materials – the hospitals are unable to cope with critical conditions at all. Such cases are transferred in Turkish hospitals” over 100 kilometres north across the border.

As families flee the city of Raqqa, there are also reports that IS militants are vacating their headquarters, looking to move their bases to more fortified areas.

Opposition activists told Anadolu that IS have been withdrawing their machinery and heavy weaponry from the city of al-Ashara, 200 kilometres south-east of Raqqa, for the past two days, heading for an unknown location.

Activist Yassin Abu Raid told Anadolu that IS militants have also been leaving the city of al-Bab, just north of Aleppo and 180 kilometres west of Raqqa.

“Militants have been sending their families to other areas” outside al-Bab, which are under control of rebels fighting against forces allied to President Bashar al-Assad.

Rebels and IS forge non-aggression pact

Amid reports that IS is regrouping ahead of expected IS attacks, an alliance of rebel groups bashed out a “non-aggression” with IS pact on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that moderate and Islamist rebels had signed a ceasefire deal for the first time in a suburb of the capital Damascus.

“The two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found, and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy” to be Assad’s government and his forces.

News site Orient Net published a list of the 11 clauses to the ceasefire agreement, which aims to halt the fierce clashes that have broken out between rebels and IS in and around Damascus over the past 45 days.

The site reported that al-Nusra Front - the militant group that on Thursday released 42 UN peacekeepers captured in the Golan Heights, had mediated between the two sides.

Charles Lister, an analyst at the Brookings Institute, reported that the alliance on the rebel side was made up of four distinct groups, among them the US-backed Syria Revolutionary Front.

Islamic State originally fought alongside the rebels but soon began attacking rival groups, before officially splitting with the Nusra Front earlier this year. Since then the two sides have been clashing frequently, allowing Assad's forces to regain momentum.