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Civilians start pouring out of Raqa

Updated October 13, 2017

RAQA: Dozens of desperate civilians streamed out of battlefront districts of Syria’s Raqa on Thursday after a ferocious resumption in bombardment against the militant Islamic State group holdouts in the city.

US-led air strikes have helped the Syrian Democratic Forces oust IS from around 90 per cent of the group’s one-time bastion, but hundreds of jihadists and civilians are still believed to be holed up near Raqa’s city centre.

Early on Thursday morning, dozens of people — mostly women and children — crossed the front line in Raqa’s central Al-Badu district and were transported by SDF forces to a row of one-room concrete warehouses on the western edge of the city.

Many of the children were without shoes, their tiny feet covered in dirt after they fled their battle-scarred neighbourhoods on foot. Haggard-looking men of all ages — most of them suffering wounds to their legs or head — had been syphoned off into a separate area for questioning.

Several residents said that air strikes and artillery fire had resumed with a vengeance on Wednesday night after several days of relative calm. “It was quiet for two or three days, and all we could think about was just going outside,” said Nisrine, a 20-year-old Raqa resident originally from Aleppo.

She, her one-year-old son, and her neighbour Aya had been trapped inside their apartments in Al-Badu for so many days she had lost count. “But when the bombardment started up again, it was even worse than before,” Nisrine said, her black face veil hiding everything but exhausted brown eyes.

This week, officials from the Raqa Civil Council were working to secure the safe passage of civilians.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017