Turkey PM says battle to retake IS capital in Syria has begun

Turkey PM says battle to retake IS capital in Syria has begun

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the USA operation to drive Islamic State from its Raqqa stronghold in Syria has begun, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The day began when forces supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad were attacked by what the US -led coalition believes were Syrian fighters not affiliated with the coalition.

A statement said the pro-Assad forces ignored several coalition warnings.

Coalition spokesperson, Col. Ryan Dillon, told reporters last week that the pro-regime forces inside the zone represented an "armed and hostile presence" and "they pose a threat to us in that particular location".

Last month, the SDF seized Syria's largest dam from ISIS militants, after weeks of fighting in the Tabqa area, west of Raqqa city.

Turkey's prime minister says his country will respond if an offensive by USA -backed Syrian forces to recapture the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa poses a security threat to Turkey.

He was referring to the latest thrust in a drive by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to close in on Raqqa that began in November.

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"The forces reached the outskirts of the city and the major operation will start.in the coming few days", Nouri Mahmoud, spokesman for the YPG, the Kurdish contingent of the SDF, said.

On Saturday, Erdogan once again expressed his displeasure with the U.S. for supporting the Kurds and threatened an invasion "without asking anyone" if Turkey came under attack.

Raqqa was among the first cities captured by IS in January 2014, and has been the home of some of the group's most prominent leaders.

SOHR said government forces launched at least 80 missiles, dropped at least 37 barrel bombs and carried out at least 13 airstrikes on rebel positions in the southern city on Sunday, as intense clashes with insurgents, including al-Qaida-led rebels, continued in the city's Manshiyeh neighborhood.

"We declare today the beginning of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the alleged capital of terrorism and terrorists", he said.

Warning the fight would be "long and hard", Townsend framed the offensive as part of a greater struggle against IS, which has claimed attacks in many countries including last month's deadly bombing in Manchester.

Raqqa is now surrounded from the east, north and west, and opposition activists have reported intense shelling and air strikes on the city since Monday night, which killed at least 12 people.

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