USA white phosphorus attack on Raqqa kills tens of civilians

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At least 12 fighters with the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed Friday by an Islamic State (IS) suicide bombing in Syria's northern city of Raqqa, pro-government Sham FM radio reported.

Colonel General Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Syria, said earlier this month that ISIS has made a deal with the Kurdish forces to leave two villages southwest of Raqqa and move toward Palmyra.

While US officials continue to present their forces inside Syria as "non-combat" forces in the country purely to "advise and assist", they are now confirming that some of the special forces have entered the ISIS capital city of Raqqa, and are close to the front lines in the city's invasion.

The government advance coincides with the invigorated push by the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) toward Raqqa's provincial capital. The SDF has been closing in for months with the help of air strikes and special forces from the USA -led coalition. Today, they pierced into Raqa from the west, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

It said heavy clashes continued to rock other parts of the neighbourhood, where at least 15 civilians were killed Thursday night in air strikes that hit an internet cafe.

One of Tuesday's air strikes inside the city killed eight civilians, including three children, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

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"Many are caught in the crossfire", said UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere. He urged all parties to give safe passage to those who want to leave.

The activist collective Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said that in addition to the airstrikes the city was subjected to artillery and missile attacks.

"They are taking all sorts of measures because they know losing Raqqa is the beginning of the end for Daesh", he said, using another common name for the group. White phosphorous is a form of incendiary munition that burns at extremely high temperatures and can be used to illuminate conflict zones or obscure them with smoke.

But forces on the ground face major challenges in their advance, including what Mahmoud described as an effort by Isis to use civilians to slow down the SDF's advance, numerous mines both outside and inside the city, booby traps, vehicles wired with bombs, a network of tunnels under the city, and suicide bombers.

Worldwide law prohibits the use of white phosphorous in civilian zones because of its indiscriminate effects - from starting fires to causing excruciating burns for bystanders over a large area - according to Human Rights Watch, which said it was investigating the allegations.

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