Monday, December 11, 2017

Isis’s so-called capital has fallen but aid organisations warned that help was urgently needed for people forced to flee the fighting.

The battle for Raqqa, the terrorist group’s Syrian stronghold dubbed the “head of the snake”, was entering a mopping-up phase with work to clear land mines and any Isis sleeper cells.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said it was “clear that the end is near” for Isis in the city but stressed that operations would continue against the group in both Syria and Iraq.

The heavy fighting led to tens of thousands fleeing, creating the potential for a humanitarian disaster, Save the Children warned.

The US-led military coalition has supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) conducting the operation to clear IS – also known as Daesh – out of the Raqqa.

As part of the offensive the RAF struck 213 targets in and around the city, including taking out sniper positions and Isis-held buildings.

Sir Michael said: “It is clear that the end is near for Daesh in Raqqa but there is no room for complacency. RAF strikes will continue to hit terrorist targets in order to ensure Daesh loses its capital in Syria as it did so in Iraq over the summer.

“We will stay the course as part of the global coalition battling the evil of our time ensuring the death cult is flushed entirely out of Syria and Iraq.”

SDF spokesman Brigadier General Talal Sillo said the US-backed forces were now in control of the former “capital of terrorism” although a formal declaration has not yet been issued.

Save the Children said 270,000 people who have fled the Raqqa fighting are still in critical need of aid, with refugee camps bursting at the seams.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director, said: “The military offensive in Raqqa may be coming to an end, but the humanitarian crisis is greater than ever.

“Fighting still rages nearby and thousands more children are streaming into already overcrowded camps every day. Conditions in the camps are miserable, and families do not have enough food, water or medicine. But it is not yet safe for them to go back, and many of their homes are now turned to rubble.

“These children have suffered for years under ISIS and must not be forgotten once the fighting subsides. We must ensure that they have a future to look forward to.

“The international community invests vast amounts of money on military action, but only a fraction of that for helping the children and families who suffer the consequences.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned “the humanitarian situation inside Syria remains dire”.

The importance of targeting Raqqa was highlighted by former prime minister David Cameron when he pushed for British military action in Syria in November 2015.

“It is in Syria, in Raqqa, that IS has its headquarters and it is from Raqqa that some of the main threats against this country are planned and orchestrated. Raqqa, if you like, is the head of the snake,” he said.

Press Association