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The New Arab

Islamic State's Syrian-stronghold Raqqa to be 'isolated by spring'

IS militants are fighting to keep hold of their bases in Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 February, 2017

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Western-backed Syrian forces should isolate Islamic State's de facto Syrian capital by spring, before an operation on the city itself begins, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said on Saturday.
Islamic State [IS] group's Syrian de facto capital Raqqa will be isolated "by spring" before an offensive on the city itself begins, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said on Saturday, as a push on the city enters its third month.

A new phase in the operation began earlier this month by Western-backed Syrian forces, who sought to fully encircle the city, cutting off the route that connects it to the IS stronghold of Deir Az-Zour, southeast Raqqa.

"I hope that isolation will be completed by the spring and then operations to liberate Raqqa itself can begin thereafter," Reuters reported Fallon telling reporters in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. 

IS militants are fighting to keep hold of their bases in Syria as the group loses ground in Iraq. 

Last month, US-backed Iraqi and Kurdish forces pushed out IS militants from the eastern side of Mosul, the group's last city stronghold in Iraq. 

"Raqqa is a much smaller city than Mosul but will clearly be defended very vigorously by [IS] and that means the operation to liberate Raqqa has to be very carefully prepared, as the operation for Mosul was," Fallon said.

"Once Raqqa is liberated after Mosul, we will see the beginning of the end of this terrible caliphate," he added.

The campaign for Raqqa was launched in November by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes the powerful Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

The advance has been progressing slowly, in part, SDF officials say, because IS has heavily mined territory around Raqqa. 

Islamic State declared the caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014. Britain joined the US-led coalition supporting local forces battling the militant group in both Iraq and Syria.

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