Members of the US-backed multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold a position in the town of Tabqa, about 55 kilometres west of Raqa city on Sunday as part of their operation to isolate and eventually recapture the ISIS-held Raqqa, the group's de facto capital. Photo: AFP/Delil Souleiman
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has denied it reached a deal to evacuate “terrorists,” after a monitoring group reported on Thursday evening that the US-backed forces had agreed to allow ISIS fighters from Tabqa to withdraw to Raqqa in Syria.
“All the rumours and circulating news about the liberation of Tabqa and the dam through evacuating the terrorists ... are baseless and far from the reality,” the SDF wrote in a statement, “compared to the continued battles and intensive clashes both in Sahl Khashab village and the new districts in Tabqa that include the first, second and third districts.”
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) had reported that some tribes in the Tabqa area mediated the deal. SOHR has said it relies on local sources on the ground in Syria.
The SOHR report stated the ISIS militants are to withdraw from the SDF-held areas into the ISIS-controlled ones, including to Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in Syria.
SDF reported intense clashes Thursday in the last three remaining districts between its forces and what it called “remaining” ISIS militants, some hiding among civilian population in the New Tabqa, claiming they killed scores of ISIS militants.
The monitoring group also reported that the sound of clashes could still be heard in parts of the city. It said it is not clear whether the sounds comes from fighting between the SDF and ISIS militants who refused to leave the city, or from the clearing operations conducted by the US-backed forces.
The SDF made breakthrough advances against the extremist group in Tabqa, retaking nine neighborhoods on Sunday and Monday, giving the international anti-ISIS partnered ground forces control of much of the city.
Despite the fact that news emerged on Monday that the SDF recaptured the entire city, its commanders came out denying the reports, noting that they want to preserve the lives of the civilians in the city through reaching a deal.
The mainly Kurdish-led SDF’s Wrath of the Euphrates operation began on April 13. It aims to secure Tabqa city and Tabqa Dam, allowing forces to focus on their contributions in retaking ISIS’ de-facto capital of Raqqa.
The SDF is comprised of the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC). It is supported by Coalition air and artillery strikes. The Coalition announced 14 strikes against ISIS “near Tabqa” on Sunday and six on Saturday, accounting for half of the Coalition’s reported strikes in Syria in that time span.