US-backed coalition liberates half of Syria's Raqqa from IS
A US-backed alliance has ousted Islamic State (IS) group militants from half of their Syrian bastion of Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday, less than two months after its fighters entered the city.
"The Syrian Democratic Forces are now in control of 50 percent of Raqqa city despite the fierce resistance mounted by IS," said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Observatory.
The Kurdish and Arab fighters entered Raqqa from the south for the first time on 6 June, crossing the Euphrates River to enter a new part of the Syrian city.
Also on Wednesday, a barrage of US-led coalition air strikes killed 29 civilians in Raqqa, Rahman said.
"At least eight children are among the dead," he added.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spent months closing in on the militant group's de-facto capital and entered the city from both east and west. But despite the coalition's successes, they have also suffered setbacks.
In an earlier Middle East Eye report, US-backed Kurdish forces reportedly faltered in their advance, following a mounting death toll and tougher-than-expected resistance from the militant group.
A spokesman for the SDF told the Syria Direct website that its strategy in the eastern part of the city had to be re-evaluated to take into consideration the destruction of historical sites and the killing of civilians.
"We are fighting and advancing with great caution," said the commander, who did not divulge his identity.
He added that the "IS fortifications appear stronger" than had previously been assumed.
The SDF assault has been backed by air strikes, special forces advisers, equipment and weapons from the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
But IS has fought back using car bombs, suicide attacks and weaponised drones.
According to the coalition, some 2,500 IS militants are defending the city.
IS seized Raqqa in early 2014, and the city has since become synonymous with the group's most gruesome atrocities.
It carried out public beheadings and is also thought to have used Raqqa as a hub for planning attacks overseas.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the escalating violence, and the United Nations estimates that as many as 50,000 people are still trapped inside the city.
More than 330,000 people have lost their lives in Syria since the country's multi-party conflict broke out following anti-government protests in March 2011.
Those who have managed to escape Raqqa have told harrowing tales of dodging sniper fire and mines or paying smugglers to lead them out.
Once IS is ousted from Raqqa, a body called the Raqqa Civil Council is expected to run the city's administrative affairs.
But much of Raqqa's infrastructure has been devastated by years under IS rule and bombing by various parties in Syria, including the coalition.
A deputy commander of the international coalition said on Sunday it would have "a great deal more" to do in Syria even after Raqqa is captured.