Backed Syrian forces push into ISIS-held Raqqa

Backed Syrian forces push into ISIS-held Raqqa

Russia's Ministry of Defense reported on Friday that pro-government forces circled around US military advisers in eastern Syria to reach the Iraqi border, dealing what could be a major blow to the declared USA mission to defeat Islamic State militants in the desert region.

"Instead of eliminating terrorists guilty of killing hundreds and thousands of Syrian civilians, the USA -led coalition together with the Democratic Forces Union controlled by it enters into collusion with ringleaders of the ISIL (Islamic State group), who give up the settlements they had seized without fighting and head to the provinces where the Syrian government forces are active", Surovkin said, according to Russian News Agency TASS.

Officials were quick to insist that the special forces in Raqqa are "not kicking down doors", but are positioned in the city primarily to advise Kurdish fighters in how to kick those doors down, though they obviously are armed and ready to fight.

Surovikin also criticized the USA for trying to block Syrian government forces from taking control of the country's southern border.

The Britain-based monitoring group said the US-led coalition had carried out heavy bombing raids to back the advance.

But the force has struggled to advance from the city's north, where IS holds a military complex known as Division 17.

Islamic State militants seized the city in January 2014, transforming it into a hub for the group's leadership and its self-described caliphate.

Syrian government warplanes struck Islamic State positions west of Raqqa city on the southern bank of the Euphrates river on Thursday, state media said.

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It added that at least seven other civilians were killed in air strikes late on June 8 and early on June 9.

The UN children's agency UNICEF warned Friday that "an estimated 40,000 children remain trapped in risky conditions in Raqa city".

"Many are caught in the crossfire", said UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere, according to AFP.

He called on all parties to provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city. It said one of those killed was an activist with the group.

That decrease could indicate IS intends to use remaining civilians "as human shields", the aid group said.

White phosphorous burns at extremely high temperatures and can be used to illuminate conflict zones or obscure them with smoke.

Global 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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