Newly opened road lets UN aid into Syria's Raqqa

A US-backed SDF operation has cleared Daesh control of routes into Raqqa, allowing access for the first time in three years to Al-Mansura and other rural areas of Raqqa, the UN's food agency says.

Photo by: (AFP)
Photo by: (AFP)

A displaced Syrian child who fled the countryside surrounding the Daesh's stronghold of Raqqa, carries bread at a temporary camp in the village of Ain Issa.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has resumed aid deliveries in parts of Syria's Raqqa province for the first time in three years using a newly opened land route, the UN said on Wednesday. 

The deliveries come as thousands of civilians are being displaced by a US-backed campaign to oust Daesh from the provincial capital of the same name in northern Syria.

Aid provision to the wider province of Raqqa is complicated by the region's remote location and by the myriad of warring factions that control access routes to it.

The US-backed coalition has captured around 30 percent of Raqqa city since it entered the Daesh bastion in June.

Until last month, the World Food Programme was relying on flying aid from Damascus to the neighbouring province of Hasakeh and then delivering it to surrounding areas. 

The land route instead travels from Aleppo province to the west of Raqqa and has "allowed access for the first time in three years to al Mansura and other rural areas north of Raqqa city," the WFP said.

Al Mansura is a town west of Raqqa city and was recaptured from Daesh in June. 

"WFP is now delivering food every month to nearly 200,000 people, displaced in eight hard-to-reach locations inside Raqqa Governorate as well as other areas in neighbouring governorates," the UN agency said.

The US-backed YPG is a leading part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which launched an operation earlier this month to capture Raqqa, Daesh's de facto Syrian capital. 

Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organisation due to its ties with the PKK – which has waged war against the Turkish state since 1984. 

The YPG entered Raqqa city for the first time in June after spending months working to encircle it. SDF forces now control nearly 35 percent of the one-time Daesh bastion.

US advisers in Raqqa

US military advisers are operating inside the city of Raqqa, a US official said on Wednesday.

The troops, many of them special operations forces, are working in an "advise, assist and accompany" role to support local fighters from the SDF as they battle Daesh, said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a military spokesman.

The troops are not in a direct combat role but are calling in air strikes and are working closer to the fight than US forces supporting the Iraqi military in Mosul did.

"They are much more exposed to enemy contact than those in Iraq," Dillon said.

He said the numbers of US forces in Raqqa were "not hundreds" and that they had been working closely with the SDF.

Regime blamed for violating ceasefire

The Syrian opposition group, High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said that the regime has broken the ceasefire in southern Syria more than 15 times in nearly 24 hours by Wednesday.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, said on Wednesday that the ceasefire in southern Syria is being "globally respected."

The zone where the ceasefire was declared had seen "a rapid fall in the level of violence," Lavrov said.

The truce, which was brokered by Russia, the US and Jordan, has been in force since Sunday in the provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida.

Meanwhile, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation at peace talks in Geneva accused the Assad regime of refusing to engage in political discussions. 

Nasr al-Hariri of the HNC challenged the UN Security Council to "uphold its responsibilities" and maintain pressure on Assad to honour resolutions that the council has passed. 

Refugees return as Hezbollah rebels strike deal

Around 300 refugees returned to their hometown in Syria on Wednesday from northeast Lebanon, where tensions have been high following army raids and suicide attacks on camps in the area.

The refugees returned under a deal negotiated by Syrian rebels in the camps and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime.

Hezbollah members escort a convoy of Syrian refugees at the border town of Arsal in Lebanon on Wednesday.

"They included armed fighters and civilians, and left in two waves from camps around Arsal to the town of Assal al-Ward in Syria," a security source said.

Lebanon is home to more than a million refugees fleeing the six-year conflict in neighbouring Syria.

Idlib suicide bombing targets rebels

A suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a gathering of rebels near the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on Wednesday, killing and injuring scores, rebel sources said.

They said the blast ripped a textile factory where members of Hayat Tahrir al Sham, an alliance of rebel groups whose backbone is the former Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front, had been using as their quarters. At least 12 were killed, one rebel source said.

The rebel alliance has been waging in the last few days a major sweep to round up Daesh sleeper cells in Idlib province.

They say they have arrested at least 100 people, including who the group says are senior operatives blamed for a string of recent assassination and blasts in the province.

The Britain-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, said that over 26 Hayat Tahrir al-Sham members were killed in the "booby-trapped vehicle explosion."

TRTWorld and agencies