ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have retaken Raqqa’s iconic clock tower at the center of the city where the Islamic State (IS) carried out its first public executions.
In a video released on Wednesday, the clock tower, at the end of al-Qawatli Street in Raqqa, can be seen in the footage shot by Kurdish media.
A fighter seen in the video identifies himself as belonging to the Shams al-Shamal brigade, which is allied with the SDF.
“Clashes are ongoing in the Mansour neighborhood and Mansour Street,” he said. “IS uses civilians as human shields. At the same time, there are many booby traps.”
The video was published by Furat FM, based in Manbij, Syria and subtitled by RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty (RFERL)
A source in Raqqa confirmed the news with Kurdistan 24, saying the clock was “under our control,” and there was still “fighting nearby and only a small distance between us and IS.”
The clock tower is located in the same neighborhood as the militant group’s main headquarters and Islamic court prior to the battle to retake Raqqa. It is surrounded by rubble and ruins, but the tower itself seems relatively unscathed.
Local media also reported coalition air strikes were ongoing on Tuesday on the location.
However, monitoring groups have expressed “grave” concerns for thousands of families trapped inside the city and the risks associated with the US-led aerial campaign.
In the video, the fighter explains that extremists will walk with a child in hand while carrying materials—for building barricades—to avoid being targeted by air strikes on their supply routes.
According to London-based Airwars and local activists, at least 725 civilians have been killed in coalition air strikes since the offensive to retake Raqqa began on June 6.
“Since the assault began, we have seen a casualty count that is relatively high compared to the rest of the coalition’s war against IS,” Chris Woods, director of Airwars, told the Washington Post.
“In Raqqa, this means high numbers of identifiable civilians, many of them women and children,” he added.
While the US-led coalition has not yet published the number of civilian casualties in Raqqa due to air strikes, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve's commander, acknowledged the Pentagon was aware of the reports.
“It is probably logical to assume that there have been some increases in civilian casualties because our operations have increased in intensity there,” he said at a news conference in Baghdad on Tuesday.
“But, I would ask someone to show me hard information that says that civilian casualties have increased in Raqqa to some significant degree,” Townsend continued.
According to UN estimates, at least 18,000 more people remain trapped in the city along with the militants.
On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented 168 civilian deaths from air strikes in Raqqa since Aug. 14, underscoring the challenges as IS militants continue to use civilians as human shields.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany