SDF takes control over nearly half of Raqqa

On Thursday 27 June, observers and a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve announced that Syrian Democratic Forces fighters, supported by the U.S., took control over almost half (45 %) of the city of Raqqa, which is the remaining main stronghold of the Islamic State (IS). However, the offensive has slowed down due to ongoing resistance from IS fighters, as well as large numbers of explosives. The defeat of the IS on several fronts raises concerns about the return of its fighters from Syria and Iraq to Europe. However, according to Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, a large number of fighters, possibly the majority, will likely stay in the area and attempt to defend whatever remains from the IS's so-called caliphate rather than returning to their native countries.

The pro-government forces of the Syrian regime are successfully advancing against the IS in the Raqqa province and are nearing the SDF's positions. Incidents between government forces and the SDF raised tensions between the U.S. and Damascus and its ally, Russia, during last month. The week before last, the U.S.  ended its support to rebel groups fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime, but, according to army general Raymond Thomas, commander of the Special Operations Command, did not act in Russian interest. This week, U.S. representatives stated that some anti-Assad forces might be integrated into military groups fighting against the IS with U.S. support.

The radical group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly connected to al-Qaida, consolidated its control over large areas of the northwestern province of Idlib, including the city of Idlib, on Sunday 23 June. On Friday, after three days of fighting, HTS reached a truce with the more moderate rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, who subsequently left the area and moved to the south of Idlib and into the Hama province. HTS's advances and the occupation of main crossings on the border with Turkey might limit humanitarian aid flowing through the crossings to Idlib. However, after a week of closure, the main crossing at Bab al-Hawa opened again for humanitarian supplies and import of basic goods. Locals were protesting the HTS jihadists in several cities as they fear this development might cause more attacks from Russian and Syrian government forces in Idlib. HTS's strengthening presence at the borders is also a threat to Turkey, who supported Ahrar al-Sham.

On Saturday 22 June, Russian Ministry of Defence announced that establishment of a de-escalation zone in east Ghouta near Damascus was agreed upon with the Syrian rebels. The relatively calm situation was disturbed in the following 24 hours, when, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian government forces conducted several aerial attacks.

About author: Dominika Jandová

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