SDF launch major offensive to capture ISIL-held Raqqa

The U.S. has spent months launching airstrikes and supporting Syrian ground forces to cut off supply lines leading into Raqqa, home to an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Islamic State fighters.

Raqqa is now surrounded from the east, north and west, and opposition activists have reported intense shelling and air strikes on the city since Monday night, which killed at least 12 people.

Former U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter had urged that IS be attacked simultaneously in Raqa and Mosul, Iraq, the group's other key stronghold.

The US-led coalition said on Tuesday the fight for Raqqa would be "long and difficult" but would deliver a "decisive blow to the idea of Daesh as a physical caliphate". Though the YPG has been effective fighting smaller ISIS targets, Raqqa will be a huge test for them. Humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee said 200,000 people were still trapped inside, and warned civilians in Raqqa risk being killed by Daesh snipers or mines if they try to flee but could be used by the militants as human shields if they remain.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the commencement of the military offensive for the self-declared capital of ISIS on Tuesday morning.

"With the global coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh", Sello told AFP.

By mid-afternoon, a number of neighborhoods inside the al-Mashlab district in eastern Raqqa city had been captured, Serdar Haji Mahmoud, a war correspondent embedded with the SDF told Syria Direct.

Abdel Rahman said it was not immediately clear if there was any coordination between the SDF and Assad's forces.

"Once ISIS is defeated in both Mosul and Raqqah, there will still be a lot of hard fighting ahead, but this Coalition is strong and committed to the complete annihilation of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria", he added. Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with the PKK which has fought a bloody campaign in southeast Turkey since 1984.

The SDF, whose main component is a Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, has been the main recipient of USA support in Syria.

The United States said on Tuesday it had started distributing arms to YPG to help take Raqqa, part of a plan that has angered NATO-ally Turkey, which is anxious about growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria.

Thousands of civilians have fled the northern city as the SDF has closed in on it. The Raqqa campaign has "resulted in massive civilian casualties, displacement and serious infrastructure destruction" so far, it said in a May report.

According to the Britain-based Observatory, the death toll in Monday's attack could rise as some of the wounded were in critical condition.

Deraa, the city where the Syrian war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, is part of the four "de-escalation zones" agreed on earlier this month during ceasefire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. "Morale is high and military readiness to implement the military plan is complete, in coordination with the US -led coalition".

The monitor recorded the coalition's deadliest month for Syrian civilians between April 23 and May 23, with 225 civilians killed.

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