Final push on Syria's Raqa to begin in days, says France

The Syrian Democratic Forces - a Kurdish-Arab alliance - announced they had captured the Tabqa air base, 45 kilometres west of Raqqa, ISIL's de facto capital in Syria.

Syrian activists said Wednesday that dozens of people were killed or missing after an airstrike the day before leveled a school near the IS-held city of Raqqa, where displaced families had sought refuge.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US -led global coalition, said in a statement they had seized the air base.

The head of the Kurdish YPG militia, which is a major part of the SDF, told Reuters last week the final assault on Raqqa would start in early April.

Also Wednesday, the USA -led coalition against the Islamic State group said it was looking into reports that a US -led coalition aircraft may have struck a shelter for the displaced in the village of Mansoura, also held by IS.

US-backed forces battled the Islamic State group around a key Syrian town on Monday (Mar 27), after the capture of an airbase brought them closer to besieging the militants in their stronghold Raqa.

IS fighters are being opposed by both the Syrian government forces and the Turkish- and USA -led rebel troops.

Meanwhile there were conflicting reports over whether civilians had begun evacuating Raqqa due to concerns over the stability of the nearby Tabqa Dam, which is under ISIL control. Asked to elaborate, he said this "indicates that ISIS was not ready for" the arrival of large numbers of the USA -backed rebels known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

"To ensure the integrity of the Tabqa dam. we have made a decision to stop operations for four hours beginning at 1pm (1100 GMT, 7pm Malaysia).to allow a team of engineers to enter the dam and carry out their work", said SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed.

SDF spokesman Talal Sello insisted there was no imminent danger to the dam, which is Syria's largest and sits on the Euphrates River. Earlier this month, a US official told reporters that "Raqqa will probably not be the final battle against ISIS".

That comes despite IS channels saying the facility was at imminent risk of collapse amid rising water levels.

Cihan Sheikh Ehmed, spokeswoman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, said the fighting was continuing at the entrance of the Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates river, adding that there are casualties among IS fighters.

But while the United States says they're mainly backing local forces, they seem poised to take on a more active rolewith conventional forces fighting ISIS on the ground in Raqqa.

In addition to the US-led coalition's bombing campaign, Russian warplanes are carrying out air strikes in support of Assad's government.

The U.S. airlift of rebel fighters into combat in northern Syria marks a further deepening of American military involvement in the war against the Islamic State group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said SDF fighters are marching toward the buildings of the Tishrin Dam carefully because of mines and explosives planted by IS.

At UN-brokered peace talks with Western-backed insurgent factions in Geneva, Syrian UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari reiterated that foreign action without his government's permission was "illegitimate".

  • Leroy Wright