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U.S.-Backed Forces Reportedly Enter Raqqa From Southern Approach

A U.S.-backed Syrian Arab-Kurdish alliance has entered Raqqa from the southern approach in the battle to drive Islamic State (IS) extremists from their self-declared capital in Syria and their last stronghold in the country.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on July 2 said Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters had crossed the Euphrates River to enter a new section of the city.

"Today, they entered Raqqa's south for the first time and seized the Al-Hal market," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said some SDF fighters had advanced north across the Euphrates River, while others had attacked Al-Hal from the adjacent district of Al-Meshleb in Raqqa's east.

The SDF has been attempting to encircle IS fighters in Raqqa for several months. Last month, they entered the city for the first time from the eastern and western sides.

The Arab-Kurdish alliance on July 2 said it had received about 1,000 reinforcements to boost its western and eastern fronts. Video footage posted by activists showed a convoy of vehicles with cheering fighters heading to join the battle.

The Syrian Observatory said 11 civilians, including four women and five children, were killed in U.S.-led coalition air strikes on the district of Al-Daraiya in western Raqqa late on July 2.

The monitor estimates that more than 200 civilians have been killed in coalition air strikes in Raqqa in the past month.

The liberation of Raqqa would represent a major blow to the IS militants, who captured large swathes of territory in 2014 in brutal fighting against Syrian and Iraqi government forces, declaring an Islamic "caliphate" over areas they controlled.

IS has been blamed for multiple atrocities, including public beheadings, with many of them having been carried out in Raqqa. The city is also believed to be the center of planning for many of the group's overseas terror attacks.

The fighting is part of a six-year civil war in Syria. The United States backs antigovernment rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia and Iran back Assad.

The IS fighters entered the battle and are separately opposed by all other sides.

Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Iraqi government troops appear to be close to fully liberating Mosul, the group's self-declared capital in Iraq, after months of brutal fighting.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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