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Backed Syrian Fighters Launch Offensive On Raqqa

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Raqqa was among the first cities captured by IS, in January 2014, and has been the home of some of the group's most prominent leaders, including those who planned the November 2015 Paris attacks and other worldwide assaults.

The latest airstrikes come as an alliance of USA -backed Kurdish and Arab fighters prepare to officially launch an all-out attack on Raqqa city.

Dillon said the SDF had encouraged civilians to quit Raqqa to avoid this fate and had set up screening centers on front lines to separate civilian refugees from fleeing fighters.

The SDF have spent months cornering Daesh in the city. The coalition began its air campaign against IS in Iraq in Aug 2014, expanding its operations to Syria the following month.

Meanwhile, other SDF forces are working to fully encircle the provincial capital by advancing from the southwest. Along the city's western edges, Syrian militiamen cleared territory and set up supply routes into the city.

The Observatory said the SDF had captured some buildings in the al-Mushleb area and had also attacked a military barracks, Division 17, on the northern outskirts of Raqqa. Both Turkey and the USA consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization. To the north, the SDF has advanced to within 3 miles of the Raqqa city limits.

The Raqqa campaign commander Rojda Felat said an assault had begun on the al-Mushleb district at the city's south-eastern outskirts, confirming an earlier report by the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

After six years of fighting, President Bashar Assad has retained control of Syria's five largest cities and its coast.

The offensive will be hard but will deal a decisive blow to the terror group, which has been losing ground over the past year in both Iraq and Syria, said Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the coalition commander.

He said once Daesh was defeated in Raqqa and Mosul in neighbouring Iraq, there would still be a lot of hard fighting ahead but reiterated that coalition was strong and committed to the complete annihilation of terrorists in both countries.

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It prompted the U.S.to parade its forces in Kurdish areas to discourage further conflict.

Washington's decision to back a Kurdish-led force has soured relations with Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, which is battling Kurdish militants within its own borders. The SDF operation to capture Raqqa is called the Wrath of Euphrates.

Turkey, an important North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, opposes the YPG because it believes the group will later push for a Kurdish homeland that would include Turkish land.

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 People's Protection Units (YPG), seen as a terrorist organization by Ankara for its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), constitutes the backbone of the US -backed SDF. "From the historical resistance of Kobanê to the liberation of Girê Spî, Hawl and Shaddadi, to the villages of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa, and to the dams in these regions, many historic steps have been taken for the liberation of the people in these regions from the terrorists and the fulfillment of their vital needs within existing resources", the SDF said in a statement. It said they were likely carried out by the US-led coalition.

An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.

He said women and children were among the dead, but he could not immediately give a specific number.

Sello urged civilians inside the city to keep away from IS positions and from the frontlines. But a showdown for the city itself will prove a major test for the coalition, with the potential for high civilian casualties.

The Observatory has given a toll of around 1,500 civilians in Syria alone since the coalition began air assaults on September 23, 2014.

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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