Backed force gains ground on IS in Syria's Raqa

The advance comes after the SDF, with the support of the US-led coalition, announced the start of a comprehensive operation to retake the city of Raqqa from IS. In northeastern Syria, the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group dominated by Syrian Kurdish militants, announced that a "great battle" had begun.

"Our forces entered the city of Raqa from the eastern district of Al-Meshleb", SDF commander Rojda Felat told AFP.

The U.S. military launched a similar air strike on Iranian-backed forces in Syria on May 18.

"We declare today the beginning of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the alleged capital of terrorism and terrorists", SDF spokesman Talal Sillo said at a news conference, according to The Associated Press.

"Morale is high and military readiness to implement the military plan is complete, in coordination with the USA -led coalition".

US-backed fighters gained ground against the Islamic State group in the streets of Raqqa on Wednesday, a day after their months-long offensive finally broke into the jihadists' Syrian bastion. The Britain-based monitoring group said the USA -led coalition had carried out heavy bombing raids to back the advance.

"The coalition has a big role in the success of the operations".

An SDF fighter who spoke to Kurdistan24 on the condition of anonymity said they are making headway towards the city center, facing auto bombs and suicide bombers. The report said the civilians were trying to flee their homes in southern neighborhoods of the city in boats when they were hit.

The operation began from the north, east, and west of the city, with the south bordered by the River Euphrates.

Speaking in Baghdad, Mr McGurk said the fight for Raqqa will be a "difficult and very long-term battle".

This "may indicate ISIS intends to use the 200,000 people still trapped in the city as human shields", the aid group said, using another acronym for IS. The threat marks an escalation of tensions between the USA and Iran-backed forces over control of Syria's southeastern frontier with Iraq, where the us has been training Syrian rebels at a base inside Syrian territory. Iraqi forces have been battling IS in Mosul since October.

But thousands have fled in recent months, and the United Nations humanitarian office said on Tuesday that it estimated about 160,000 people remained in the city.

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