An SDF fighter takes down an ISIS flag in Tabqa. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have given ISIS militants in Raqqa until the end of May to surrender.
The Kurdish-led SDF announced on Friday that it was extending an earlier offer of surrender after “positive results,” giving the militants until May 31 to lay down their arms “to prevent bloodshed and preserve lives” in advance of military operations on the urban centre.
The SDF added that the safety of the militants’ families would also be guaranteed if they surrendered.
The city of Raqqa, the extremist group’s de facto capital, is under partial siege by the SDF who launched their operation to take the city last November. First stages of the offensive focused on clearing rural areas and villages north of the city and the Euphrates River. Most recently, the SDF retook the strategic Tabqa Dam and town.
The final stage of taking Tabqa was accelerated after some 70 ISIS militants accepted SDF terms to surrender, “which included the dismantling of IEDs surrounding the dam, the surrender of all ISIS heavy weapons, and the forced withdrawal of all remaining fighters from Tabqa City,” the global coalition confirmed in a published statement earlier this month.
The UN estimates there are about 230,000 civilians living in Raqqa city. Their safety is under scrutiny as the US-led coalition is facing heated criticism for increasing numbers of civilian casualties due to airstrikes.
On Thursday, the coalition admitted that one of their airstrikes set off an explosion that killed more than 100 civilians in west Mosul in March, though they blamed ISIS explosives rigged throughout a building for causing most of the destruction.
That airstrike made March the deadliest month so far for civilians in the coalition’s air campaign against ISIS. April was the second deadliest month since coalition airstrikes began in August 2014, the monitor Airwars reported.
“Around Raqqa in particular – where most of the strikes are by the US – we are seeing high civilian casualties where six months ago we would not,” said Airwars Director Chris Wood.
“This is the clearest evidence yet that protections for civilians on the battlefield appear to have been scaled back – with the inevitable consequence of higher deaths and injuries. As the battle for Raqqa itself approaches, we therefore remain extremely concerned for the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians still trapped within the city.”
The coalition has carried out 31 airstrikes in the Raqqa area over the past three days, according to their daily strike reports.