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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

US-backed forces in Syria breach wall of Old City of Raqqa

The Syrian Ddemocratic Forces alliance has spent months closing in on the ISIL bastion and entered the city's east and west for the first time last month.

Donald Trump appears to have rescinded his support from the Kurdish Syrian Fighters. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
Donald Trump appears to have rescinded his support from the Kurdish Syrian Fighters. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

WASHINGTON // US-backed forces in Syria have breached the wall surrounding the Old City of Raqqa as they try to retake the city from ISIL, the US Central Command said on Monday night.

"Coalition forces supported the SDF advance into the most heavily fortified portion of Raqqa by opening two small gaps in the Rafiqah Wall that surrounds the Old City," Centcom said in a statement, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces alliance.

SDF fighters pierced Raqqa from the south for the first time on Sunday, crossing the Euphrates River to enter a new part of the Syrian city, a monitor said.

The SDF has spent months closing in on the ISIL bastion and entered the city's east and west for the first time last month.

Centcom said the SDF faced heavy resistance at the wall surrounding the Old City from ISIL fighters who used it as a combat position and planted mines and improvised explosive devices against the advancing US-backed soldiers.

"Conducting targeted strikes on two small portions of the wall allowed coalition and partner forces to breach the Old City at locations of their choosing, denied ISIS the ability to use pre-positioned mines, IED and VBIEDs, protected SDF and civilian lives, and preserved the integrity of the greatest portion of the wall," Centcom said.

"The portions targeted were 25-metre sections and will help preserve the remainder of the overall 2,500-metre wall," it added.

According to the US-led anti-ISIL coalition, an estimated 2,500 ISIL fighters are defending the northern Syrian city.

ISIL overran Raqqa in 2014, transforming it into the de facto capital of its self-declared "caliphate", which it announced three years ago.

The city became infamous as the scene of some of the group's worst atrocities, including public beheadings, and is thought to have been a hub for planning attacks overseas.

The United Nations has expressed concern for up to 100,000 civilians it says are still trapped in the city.