Syria war: IS quits Aleppo and launches counter-attack in Raqqa

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IS withdraws from 17 towns and villages of Aleppo, launches counter-offensive against US-backed SDF in Raqqa

YPG soldiers patrol Raqqa. IS is reported to have pressed counter-offensive in district of al-Senaa (Reuters)
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Last update: 
Saturday 1 July 2017 2:28 BST
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The Islamic State group no longer has a presence in Syria's Aleppo province after withdrawing from a series of villages where government forces were advancing, a monitor said on Friday.

"IS withdrew from 17 towns and villages and is now effectively outside of Aleppo province after having a presence there for four years," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

A Syrian military source in rural Aleppo confirmed the withdrawal.

"The military operation is ongoing and Daesh withdrew from the Aleppan countryside towards rural territory in Hama and Raqqa," the source told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for IS. 

"The Syrian army is clearing out the last few metres," the source added.

IS retakes Raqqa district

The Observatory said IS had retaken territory in its de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, as it pressed a counter-offensive against troops from the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

"IS fully retook al-Senaa, which was the most important district taken by the SDF," said Rahman. "IS fighters attacked the SDF with suicide bombers and (weaponised) drones, and also used tunnels."

The densely built-up area was the closest that the SDF and allied Arab fighters had come to the city centre. 

On Thursday, dozens of militants disguised in SDF uniforms launched an attack on al-Senaa from the city centre, carrying out three suicide car bomb attacks and overrunning six SDF positions. 

By Friday, the SDF and its allies withdrew from al-Senaa to the al-Meshleb area. "They are now reinforcing their defensive positions in al-Meshleb," Rahman said. 

Fierce clashes

An IS statement published early on Friday said its fighters had been locked in "hours-long" clashes with the SDF in al-Senaa and al-Meshleb. 

The SDF broke into Raqqa on 6 June after spending months chipping away at IS-held territory around the city.

With the loss of al-Senaa, the SDF is left in control of al-Meshleb and two districts in the west of the city. 

On Thursday, the SDF cut off the last escape route for IS from Raqqa, trapping the militants inside the city.

About 2,500 militants are fighting inside Raqqa, according to Rupert Jones, a British major general and the deputy commander of the US-led coalition backing the SDF.

The UN estimates about 100,000 civilians remain in the city, with the militants accused of using them as human shields.

Raqqa became infamous as the scene of some of the worst IS atrocities, including public beheadings, and is thought to have been a hub for planning attacks overseas.