AIN ISSA: US-backed forces announced Sunday the “final phase” of the battle to retake Syria’s Raqa, after the city was evacuated except for foreign Islamic State group fighters and their families, reports AFP.
More than 3,000 civilians fled Raqa on Saturday night under an evacuation deal that left just a few hundred foreign IS fighters and some of their relatives in the handful of positions they still hold in their one-time Syrian stronghold.
Commanders said the way was now clear for a final assault by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab militia alliance that broke into Raqa in June and has since captured 90 percent of the city.
SDF spokesman Talal Sello said the 3,000 civilians had evacuated to areas controlled by the SDF under a deal negotiated between local officials from the Raqa Civil Council and Syrian IS fighters. “Raqa is now empty of civilians who had been taken as human shields,” he said.
“Only 250 to 300 foreign terrorists who refused the deal and decided to stay and fight until the end remain in the city, and relatives of some members are with them,” he said, without specifying the number of civilians.