(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Pushes to retake Syria’s Raqqa are underway by the Syrian government forces on the one hand and the foreign-backed rebels on the other hand.
Located in northeast Syria with 1,900 square kilometers of size, Raqqa was seized by ISIS terrorist group in winter 2013 and vast swaths of it have remained under its control to date.
Geographically, the city is located on the northeast banks of the Euphrates River and is a significant farming area of Syria. The city is supplied with water and power by the Tabqa Dam.
Three Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Al-Hasakah, and Deir ez-Zor meet in Raqqa. The city's importance is doubled as it is located close to the Iraqi borders. ISIS transports fighters and facilities between Syria and Iraq through this city.
Before the war that was largely triggered by offensives launched by the foreign-backed militants, Raqqa was the sixth-largest city of the country. As of the 2004 census, the city’s population was 220,000, but this number jumped to 800,000 after war erupted across the country and forced people from other cities to reside in Raqqa. But demographic data failed to find publicity after the city seizure. The Sunni Muslims account for a majority of the population of the city, with the Christians and also Kurds also dwelling there but in minor numbers. The Kurds mainly live in rural parts of Raqqa.
Upon seizing the city, ISIS declared it to be the capital of the so-called caliphate to which the terrorist group invited people to travel. Raqqa also hosts foreign militants' families in its Syria stronghold. Raqqa is of significance as it shares borders with three strategic provinces of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, abd Al-Hasakah. The city accounts for between 20 and 25 percent of the total ISIS lands across the Levant region, and major part of the takfiris' strategic equipment are positioned in the city.
Recent offensives by the Syrian army took it to just 30 kilometers from the ISIS-held city. Lebanon’s Ad-Diyar newspaper reported, quoting monitoring groups, that Syrian government forces have reached Al-Sukhna town, the biggest ISIS base in Homs province outskirts and also a gate to Deir ez-Zor where Syrian army is preparing to launch major operation to liberate the besieged city.
"The army has managed to reach a district, which is 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] from the Euphrates River and 30 kilometers [18.6 miles] from Raqqa. The army is capable to return the city in five hours. The issue of Raqqa liberation depends on the start of the offensive,” Russia's Sputnik news agency quoted a Syrian army brigadier general as saying.
He, additionally, said that the liberation operation has taken place in three phases:
"The first stage started with liberation of the Kweiris air base, and the Deir Hafer and Meskane settlements on border with Jordan, which were important Daesh sites. Then the army managed to reach the southeastern outskirts of Raqqa," he went on telling the Russian news agency.
The second phase included recapture of Resafa town and “hundreds of local oil and gas fields.”
As the operation continued, the army managed to secure Resafa-Athreya road that connects Raqqa to Aleppo and Homs.
He further said that the third stage was presently unfolding, according to the Sputnik. The Syrian army, backed by allied forces, managed to annihilate a considerable number of the terrorists as fighting went on during the liberating pushes.
But the Raqqa liberation is facing some challenges. One challenge is posed by a similar operation in Raqqa launched by the US-supported rebel coalition, dubbed Syrian Democratic Forces, that brings together the Kurdish and Arab militias. But the SDF are far from carrying the potentials to retake Raqqa from ISIS by themselves, a setback urging foreign parties to come on board.
Kurdish forces' involvement in the battle for Raqqa even doubles the concerns and challenges and gives rise to speculations that their participation in the non-Kurdish Raqqa is driven by their subsequent demands for the city to become an autonomous region.
Another challenge is represented by the Turkish military interference that aims at securing an active role for Turkish military and ousting the Kurds, whom are regarded by Ankara as archenemies of Turkey, from the battlefields.
In general, Raqqa recapture is a master key prompting fast ISIS obliteration in Syria as it facilitates liberating other terrorist-held areas of the war-ravaged country. As ISIS loses more grounds in Syria to the military forces, closer the terror group comes to its end in the Levant.