Backed Fighters to Pause Military Action Near Syria Dam

This still image taken from drone footage posted online Monday, March.

Islamic State captured the Tabqa Dam, also known as the Euphrates Dam, which is about 40 km (25 miles) upstream from Raqqa and the air base, at the height of its expansion in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

Contradicting claims by IS corroborated by Syrian officials and engineers, the US-led coalition and the forces it backs in the area have denied the dam is facing an "imminent" risk of collapse, saying its structure has not been damaged.

After suspending an offensive to assess the safety of Syria's largest dam, USA -backed Kurdish fighters said Tuesday they are poised to resume operations against Islamic State extremists who had occupied the massive structure.

Engineer Aboud al Haj Aboud who was the head of the electricity division of the dam said on social media that if indeed the control room is busted and the gates of the dam can not be opened, it will still take at least a month for the waters being held back by the dam to overflow the top of the structure.

The dam controls 13 billion square metres of water in the Assad Lake, which derives its water from the Euphrates river.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-run monitoring group, said at least two people were killed.

The American-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Arab and Kurdish forces led by the YPG, is advancing towards Raqqa.

The battle for the dam is part of the SDF's preparations for a larger assault on the extremist group's de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, which lies around 55 kilometres east of Tabqa.

On Tuesday, technicians accompanied by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent could be seen examining the dam to assess whether water levels had risen in recent days.

The US-led coalition says it's taking every precaution and that the dam hasn't been structurally damaged.

The top USA general in Iraq told reporters on Tuesday that a strike near the Islamic-State-held Syrian city of Raqqa last week appears to have killed dozens of militants and not civilians.

The head of the Kurdish YPG militia, fighting in the Raqqa campaign as part of the SDF alliance, has said the final assault on the city will begin in early April.

Elsewhere in Syria, another group of Syrian rebels began leaving the last opposition-held neighborhood in the central city of Homs with their families under a Russia-brokered deal with the Syrian government, state TV and the province's governor said.

The director of the Syrian government's General Authority of Euphrates Dam, which formerly operated the huge project, blamed USA strikes in the past two days for disrupting internal control systems and putting the dam out of service.

Syrian forces now control of territory up to 16 kilometers (13 miles) around the historic town of Palmyra, Rudskoi said, adding that they recently seized control of high ground held by IS along a highway connecting Palmyra and the capital, Damascus.

The US-led coalition has reported 21 airstrikes near Tabqa since Saturday.

All men in Raqqa have been ordered to wear the jihadists' garb of baggy clothing and long shirts, making it hard to distinguish between civilians and militants and ensuring that the city's population is being even more effectively utilised as human shields to protect Isis.

UN-mediated talks between government and rebel representatives continued Monday in Geneva, aimed at bringing an end to the war that has killed 320,000 people.

  • Leroy Wright