Saturday 21 September 2019

Syrian Democratic Forces declare victory over Islamic State in Raqqa

Fighters from the Women's Protection Units, or YPJ, hold a celebration in Paradise Square in Raqqa (AP)
Fighters from the Women's Protection Units, or YPJ, hold a celebration in Paradise Square in Raqqa (AP)
Damaged buildings in Raqqa after Syrian Democratic Forces said operations to oust IS have ended and they have taken full control of the city (AP Photo/ Gabriel Chaim)

A US-backed Syrian force has declared victory over Islamic State in its former de facto capital of Raqqa, declaring the city free of any extremist presence.

At a press conference held inside the city, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) formally handed over administration of the city in northern Syria to a council made up of local officials and tribal leaders.

Talal Sillo, a spokesman and senior SDF commander, declared: "Our victory is one against terrorism."

The press conference was held inside the city's sports stadium which IS militants had turned into a huge prison, where they incarcerated and tortured their opponents.

Mr Sillo urged the international community and aid organisations to help with the city's reconstruction.

Drone footage from Raqqa showed the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and IS, as well as thousands of bombs dropped by the US-led coalition.

It shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighbourhoods have been turned to rubble, with few signs of civilian life.

The video showed entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable, with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several storeys turned to piles of debris.

The stadium which was used as an arms depot and prison by the extremists appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.

Mr Sillo said: "We call upon all countries and peace-loving forces and all humanitarian organisations to participate in rebuilding the city and villages around it and help in removing the scars of war that were inflicted by the (IS) group."

He added that 655 local and international fighters lost their lives during the four-month battle for Raqqa.

Long before the ground offensive by the SDF began in Raqqa in early June, warplanes pounded the city for months.

The US-backed Kurdish-led SDF announced on Tuesday that they had driven IS militants out of the city after weeks of fighting.

The fall of Raqqa marks a major defeat for IS, which has seen its territories steadily shrink since last year.

IS took over Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River, in January 2014, and transformed it into the epicentre of its extremist rule.


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