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U.S.-Backed Forces In Syria Say 'Final' Battle For Raqqa Is On


Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces make a "V" sign as they ride to the front-line in Raqqa on October 8.

A spokesman for the U.S.-backed forces fighting Islamic State militants in Syria says the "final" battle to uproot the extremists from the northern city of Raqqa is under way, as dozens of IS fighters surrender.

Mustafa Bali, the spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said on October 14 that the battle could take hours or days.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is an alliance of Arab and Kurdish militias dominated by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

Also on October 14, the U.S.-led coalition said local officials in Raqqa had struck a deal with IS militants to allow a convoy to evacuate the city later in the day. Under the deal, SDF forces will have the right to inspect the vehicles as they are leaving the area.

The coalition statement said it believes the deal "will save lives" and enable the coalition and the SDF to focus on the fight against IS.

The loss of Raqqa, once the de facto capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate, would deal a huge blow to the militant group.

Bali says IS militants are putting up a desperate resistance in a number of neighborhoods in the city.

However, the coalition said in an e-mailed statement that dozens of IS fighters have surrendered over the past day.

"Within the past 24 hours, approximately 100 ISIS terrorists have surrendered in Raqqa, and were removed from the city," the statement said.

The battle for Raqqa began in June, with heavy street-by-street fighting amid intense U.S.-led coalition air strikes and shelling. The battle has dragged on in the face of stiff resistance from the militants and civilians trapped in the city.

However, the coalition says it controls about 90 percent of the city.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page on October 14 that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had already left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken to.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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