Syrian Kurdish forces 'preparing to liberate' IS-held Raqqa
Kurdish forces in Syria are preparing with the international coalition to "liberate" the Islamic State stronghold of Raqa, the leader of Syria's Kurds said on Thursday.
"The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are preparing with the coalition to liberate Raqa," Saleh Muslim told reporters in Paris.
The SDF are dominated by Kurdish forces.
Muslim, the head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), added however that the fighters would need the support of up to 50,000 "Arab residents of the Raqa region" to take the northeastern town which the jihadists have made their base.
The PYD chief said his forces were currently attempting to take control of a 70-kilometre (44-mile) corridor "which is the terrorists' only access route".
Muslim said the IS fighters who had fled Palmyra when Syrian regime forces seized control of the ancient city last week are now heading towards the town of Azaz from Turkey.
Turkey last month allowed some 500 Syrian rebels to cross through its border into Syria to block a SDF advance on Azaz.
"This corridor between Turkey and Raqa must be closed, with the help of coalition air support," he added.
A year ago, Kurdish forces fought off an IS offensive on the shattered Syrian town of Kobane on the Turkish border after several months of fierce fighting.
The PYD is currently barred from the peace talks on Syria taking place in Geneva, but Muslim said he hoped they would be able to take part in the future.
The PYD was not invited to participate because Turkey considers the party to be an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting for a Kurdish homeland in Turkey since 1984.
But the PYD denies being a branch of the PKK and insists it has no interest in attacking Turkey.
Syrian opposition groups also accuse the PYD of collaborating with the Syrian regime, however the US views the group and the Kurdish dominated SDF as the most effective ground force in the fight against IS in Syria.
Agencies contributed to this report