‘Most violent’ battles in Raqqa city to date as UN warns of civilian toll

AMMAN: United States-backed Syrian forces advanced against the Islamic State in Raqqa city on Wednesday amidst the “most violent” battles there so far, an embedded journalist told Syria Direct.

“Fighting in all of the districts is the most violent that we have seen yet,” Serdar Mahmoud, a war correspondent embedded with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Raqqa city told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

The SDF, Kurdish and Arab Syrian forces backed by the United States-led international coalition, launched a battle to capture Raqqa city on June 6. The offensive came after seven months of battles to encircle the city, the heart of the self-declared IS caliphate in Syria, to the west, north and east.

IS took control of Raqqa city from local rebels in 2014.

Since entering the city for the first time just over one week ago, SDF forces have advanced steadily and announced the capture of a handful of districts, factories and most of the Division 17 military base north of the city.

Mahmoud said the coalition-backed forces had taken full control of Raqqa’s eastern a-Sinaa industrial district on Wednesday. Official SDF media has not officially declared control of the district.

Heavy battles continued inside the districts of al-Bareed and Hiteen in northwestern Raqqa city, the journalist said, in addition to clashes south of the Division 17 base.

There were unconfirmed reports on Wednesday that SDF forces, advancing further westward from a-Sinaa, had begun fighting inside Raqqa’s Old City, two days after reportedly first reaching its historic outer wall.

The IS-linked Amaq News Agency published a video on Tuesday showing clashes between IS fighters and the SDF in Raqqa’s al-Jizra and Mashlab districts, both of which were captured in the past week.

 SDF fighters on grounds of Raqqa’s sugar factory, captured on Monday. Photo courtesy of Raqqa Campaign.

An article posted in the June 8 issue of the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, al-Naba, entitled “either we eradicate the infidels or we die trying, no third option,” praised the resistance of IS fighters in Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul.

“The duty of every mujahid in Raqqa city is to take into account that this battle is where the apostates will be exterminated,” read the article. “And if we are destroyed, we will meet God steadfast in his religion.”

“This battle is unlike any other they have waged with the soldiers of the caliphate.”

‘Staggering loss of civilian life’

As fighting escalates on the ground, United Nations war crimes investigators warned of the deadly toll the battles and accompanying airstrikes are taking.

Sergio Pinheiro, the head of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic told the body’s Human Rights Council that the intensification of airstrikes on Raqqa had led to a “staggering loss of civilian life.”

In the first seven days of the battle for Raqqa city alone, international coalition planes carried out 186 strikes in the area, according to official reports.

Monitors and activist groups such as Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently and the Syrian Network for Human Rights have reported multiple, daily civilian casualties since the battle began.

Up to 200,000 people are thought to remain in Raqqa city, while more than 150,000 have been displaced by the battles.

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.