Kurdish-led SDF enters Raqqa city

Syrian Observatory U.S.-backed force attacks eastern edge of Raqqa

"The Raqqa campaign will take time; this is a large urban area in which ISIS has been preparing its defenses for more than three years", he said.

Raqqah is reportedly encircled from the north, west and east following the SDF's advance. That suggests it does not intend to challenge the US -backed campaign at Raqqa city. Clashes are also taking place in Division 17, a former army base one kilometre north of Raqqa.

"We declare today the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of terrorism and terrorists", SDF spokesman Talal Sello told reporters in the village of Hazima, north of the city. "Once ISIS is defeated in both Mosul and Raqqa, there will still be a lot of hard fighting ahead, but this coalition is strong and committed to the complete annihilation of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria".

The SDF have spent months cornering Daesh in the city.

According to the Turkish government, which is part of the US -led coalition against the Islamic State in Syria, the operation started on Friday.

"In addition to warplanes, there are coalition forces working side by side with the SDF", he said.

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US-backed rebels push for ISIL's de facto capital in Syria as government forces pound the southern city of Deraa. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights also reported that the SDF had already seized a number of positions inside the city.

The assault overlaps with the final stages of the US-backed attack to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday his country will respond if an offensive by the SDF on Raqqa poses a security threat to Turkey.

The commander of the Raqqa campaign, Rojda Felat, confirmed an assault had begun on the Al Mashlab district at the city's southeastern outskirts.

"It's hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin "capitals" in both Iraq and Syria", Townsend told Fox News.

The U.S. -SDF partnership has complicated relations with Turkey, which views the group's Kurdish component as an extension of a terror group operating inside its own borders.

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"Fighting continues in eastern Raqqa city and warplanes are striking", he said. An Arab group fighting with the SDF, the Syrian Elite Forces, which was established in February, had entered al-Mishlab with coalition air support, its spokesman Mohammed al-Shaker said by phone.

The SDF, whose main component is a Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, has been the main recipient of US support in Syria.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of the fight against Islamic State, said in a statement Tuesday that the battle for Raqqa is expected to be long and challenging, but necessary to dismantle the militants' so-called caliphate. The United States last week said it had started distributing arms to the YPG to help take Raqqa. Humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee said 200,000 people were still trapped inside, and warned civilians in Raqqa risk being killed by Daesh snipers or mines if they try to flee but could be used by the militants as human shields if they remain.

Russian aircraft have also carried out bombing raids against Daesh convoys fleeing the city.

More than 320,000 people have been killed since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011.

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

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