Islamic State 'evacuating Raqqa over dam collapse fears'

The airlift was a major development to the SDF's multifront campaign to bear down on Raqqa, as US -backed Iraqi forces simultaneously press their assault to seize Mosul from the militants, in neighboring Iraq.

The U.S. has provided substantial air and ground support to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are closing in on the IS capital Raqqa, 40 kilometers (25 miles) upstream from Tabqa Dam.

An official said alliance forces had moved close to the strategically important Tabqa Dam near Raqqa and the adjacent town of Tabqa and its airport.

Pohan says the USA airlift was provided only for the Arab fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-run monitoring group, is also reporting the dam is out of service.

The U.S. -backed Syrian Democratic Forces has been battling to capture the dam from Islamic State since Friday.

The dam is the largest in Syria.

The US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance, SDF, denied damaging the dam during last week's assault.

Raqqa 24 said engineers employed by the militants had restored power to the dam's gates and the structure was functioning normally.

"Shelling on the area... that supplies that damn with electricity has put it out of service", a source at the dam told AFP. The group warned the dam could burst.

USA -led coalition forces say the Tabqa Dam in northern Syria is structurally sound.

The SDF is leading the move against the IS in Raqqa and has been attempting to encircle the city for months. Other SDF forces are within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the city, approaching from the north.

But they are mostly further away, between 18km and 29km from Raqa.

"There have been no air strikes on the dam", he told AFP.

But a spokesman for Moscow's forces in Syria, headquartered at the Hmeimim air base in Latakia, said Monday that all Russian aircraft inside Syria were safely at their bases or on missions.

Since Russia's military intervention in support of Assad in 2015, the regime has gained the upper hand, retaking the former rebel bastion of Aleppo late previous year.

Assad's government has also relied on "reconciliation" deals, under which rebels agree to quit territory in exchange for an end to siege or bombardment, and safe passage.

On Monday, evacuations from the last opposition-held district of the central city of Homs resumed under a similar deal, according to state news agency Sana.

It said about 290 people, including 70 rebels, had quit Waer on Monday and that a total of 1,500 were expected to be bused out by the end of the day.

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura hosted Mr al-Ja'afari at United Nations offices in Geneva for the talks set to take place over at least several days around issues of governance, elections, a new constitution and the fight against terrorism.

Speaking in the Swiss city, High Negotiations Committee chief Nasr al-Hariri stuck by the opposition group's long-held demand that Assad can not have any role in the transition and future of Syria.

The UN's envoy Staffan de Mistura was in Jordan on Monday to brief an Arab League meeting on the talks.

  • Leroy Wright