BEIRUT: U.S.-backed Syrian fighters clashed Monday with Islamic State militants in the heart of Raqqa, the extremists' self-styled capital, as scores of civilians fled areas controlled by the group.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, aided by the U.S.-led coalition, launched their offensive to capture the city on June 6, and have since taken several areas. The Kurdish-led group has been one of the most effective forces in fighting IS in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday's fighting is concentrated in the southwestern neighborhood of Yarmouk as well as a central area close to the Old City.
The SDF says intense fighting is underway in central Raqqa, adding that its fighters have taken positions near a centuries-old mosque known as the Old Mosque.
The SDF said 11 IS fighters have been killed in the clashes since Sunday. The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said 14 SDF fighters were killed in the fighting in Raqqa on Sunday alone.
The intensification of fighting comes a week after Iraqi forces declared victory against IS in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest the extremists have held. The loss of Raqqa would deal a major blow to IS, but the group still holds wide areas of the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, bordering Iraq.
The Kurdish-run Hawar news agency says some 180 civilians were able to flee areas controlled by IS, while the Observatory put the number in the hundreds.
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