Islamic State defeated in its 'capital'

Islamic State defeated in its 'capital'

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a US-led worldwide alliance, has been fighting Islamic State inside Raqqa since June.

US -backed forces say they took "full control" of the city of Raqqa, long the extremist group Islamic State's main stronghold in Syria, following heavy fighting against a few dozen militants remaining in the city.

The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, began its campaign to isolate Raqqa early this year, pushing along several fronts to enclose the city against the Euphrates backed by coalition air strikes and special forces. "The Islamic State group is collapsing under pressure from the regime in Deir Ezzor province", it said.

Daesh has lost much of its territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul.

"IS will be mainly boxed into a strip of territory running along the Middle Euphrates River Valley in the province of Deir Ezzor", he told AFP.

"Whoever leads us, Kurd or Arab, we want them to provide us with services", said a man from Raqqa, speaking outside the RCC headquarters in Ain Issa, north of the city.

Reuters reported that fighters raised the YPG flag inside the stadium, celebrated in the streets and chanted slogans from their vehicles.

The fighters and commanders clasped their arms round each other, smiling, in a battle-scarred landscape of rubble and ruined buildings around the main square.

Rojda Felat, the SDF's commander for its Raqqa operation, flashed a wide grin as she waved a huge yellow flag emblazoned with the militia's name, her rifle hanging from her shoulder.

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On Tuesday morning, the SDF cleared the last two major IS positions in Raqqa - the municipal stadium and the National Hospital. "The children", she said, "have suffered for years under ISIS and must not be forgotten once the fighting subsides". Daesh had killed her son for helping civilians leave the city, she said.

"The SDF have taken casualties in the past hours and we expect there will still be pockets of ISIS fighters in the coming days", coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told CNN.

"During these clashes, the National Hospital was liberated and cleared from the Daesh mercenaries, and 22 of these foreign mercenaries were killed there", said Bali, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Keenly aware of Raqqa's ethnic and tribal sensitivities, the SDF has been working hard to put Arabs at the heart of plans for local government and policing post-Islamic State, analysts say. Dillon said 350 fighters had surrendered in recent days, including some foreign fighters.

"The situation in Raqqa is under control and soon there will be an official statement declaring the liberation of the city".

Raqqa was the first big city the Islamic State captured in early 2014-before its rapid series of victories in Iraq and Syria brought millions of people under the rule of its self-declared caliphate-which passed laws and issued passports and money.

The charity group Save the Children warned Tuesday that while the battle against ISIS is now largely over in the city, the humanitarian crisis is "rapidly escalating" in northeast Syria, with displaced people in dire need of aid and local refugee camps "bursting at the seams".

The SDF advance since Sunday also brought it control over a central city roundabout, where the Islamic State once displayed the severed heads of its enemies, and which became one of its last lines of defence as the battle progressed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reports that at least 3,250 people have been killed in the city over the past five months of fighting, shelling, and USA airstrikes.

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