The Latest: US Colonel: Tough Battle Ahead In Syria's Raqqa
Published August 11th, 2017
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):
A U.S. military spokesman says there remains still tough fighting ahead after U.S.-backed Syrian fighters linked up their eastern and western font lines in the northern city of Raqqa.
U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon said in an email to The Associated Press that although the Syrian Democratic Forces linked up their east and west axis on the southern edge of the city of Raqqa, this does not in fact cut the city in two.
Dillon says the significance is that the SDF, despite IS' best efforts, have successfully battled across the entire city from both sides and have joined forces.
The U.S. spokesman says this shows the steady progress the SDF fighters are making against IS in the militants' self-declared capital.
SDF fighters have been on the offensive to capture Raqqa since June. 6, under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.
Turkey has introduced new regulations at a border crossing with northwestern Syria, allowing only the transport of humanitarian aid, after an al-Qaida-linked group took control of the Syrian post.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Cilvegozu crossing in southern Turkey would remain open for food, medicine and some supplies to go across. He spoke after Friday prayers in Istanbul.
Turkey's Cilvegozu stands across from the Bab al-Hawa in Syria's Idlib province.
The al-Qaida-linked militant group Levant Liberation Committee captured the crossing after battles with the ultraconservative Syrian rebel Ahrar al-Sham group last month.
Erdogan says Turkey "cannot allow the passage of weapons," suggesting humanitarian aid has "practically turned into an armament process."
Turkey's official Anadolu news agency reported a three-kilometer tailback at the Oncupinar border crossing, located further east, after trucks were rerouted from Cilvegozu.
Turkey says new precautions are being taken along its border in response to recent developments in northwestern Syria as it engages in international efforts to broker a deal.
Speaking after Friday prayers in Ankara, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said "radical groups have taken over control" in Syria's Idlib province.
Last month, al-Qaida-linked Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee — also known as HTS, captured the majority of Idlib province after battles with the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group. HTS also seized the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey's Hatay province.
"We are taking the necessary precautions in Hatay's 150-kilometer border with Syria," Yildirim said, in order to prevent "humanitarian dramas" and threats against Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said talks on the situation in Idlib are ongoing between the country's intelligence service, Iran and Russia.
The U.N.'s migration agency says over 600,000 displaced Syrians have returned to their homes this year, citing an increasing trend of returns while warning the situation remains "not sustainable."
International Organization for Migration spokeswoman Olivia Headon says the 602,759 returns between January and July was on pace to surpass the figure of 685,000 in all of 2016. She said however that the 2017 returns were less than the number of displaced this year: nearly 809,000.
IOM said Friday that its partner agencies reporting found that two-thirds went to northern Aleppo governorate, where government forces ousted rebels from the city of Aleppo last year.
Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they returned to "protect their assets" and one-quarter cited "improved economic conditions." Eighty-four percent were people internally displaced, the rest fleeing abroad.
U.S.-backed Syrian fighters advancing from eastern and western parts of the northern city of Raqqa have linked up for the first time in weeks after launching their offensive against Islamic State group fighters there.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched a wide offensive to capture IS's de facto capital of Raqqa on June 6. Since then, SDF fighters have captured half the city under the cover of Russian airstrikes.
U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon tweeted that SDF forces have linked up "East-West axes" in Raqqa and are continuing to pressure IS.
Mustafa Bali, who heads the SDF media center, also confirmed Friday that SDF fighters pushing from opposite sides of the city have met.