People flee as a new phase begins in the battle for Raqqa, Isis stronghold in Syria

A new phase has begun in the battle for the city of Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria. An alliance of US-backed Kurdish-led fighters is advancing on the city, aiming to encircle and ultimately capture it. Residents of the city and local villages have fled with whatever belongings they could carry and have set up makeshift camps in the desert.

Syrian children who fled Raqqa city stand near their tent in Ras al-Ain provinceRodi Said/Reuters
A displaced Syrian child looks out of a tent at a makeshift camp near the village of Tarshan, some 20 kilometres north of RaqqaDelil Souleiman/AFP
Displaced Syrians carry blankets at a makeshift camp near the village of Tarshan, some 20 kilometres north of RaqqaDelil Souleiman/AFP
A girl who fled Raqqa poses for a photo in the desert north of the cityDelil Souleiman/AFP
A woman who fled Raqqa rests on the ground near other displaced people in northern Raqqa provinceRodi Said/Reuters
An internally displaced Syrian boy who fled Raqqa city stands near sheep in northern Raqqa provinceRodi Said/Reuters
An internally displaced Syrian woman who fled Raqqa city carries a child in northern Raqqa provinceRodi Said/Reuters
An internally displaced Syrian woman who fled Raqqa city covers herself with a blanket while resting in northern Raqqa provinceRodi Said/Reuters
A man who fled Raqqa city rides a donkey in Ras al-Ain provinceRodi Said/Reuters
An internally displaced Syrian family who fled Raqqa city stand near their tent in Ras al-Ain provinceRodi Said/Reuters
An internally displaced Syrian woman who fled Raqqa city makes bread inside a tentRodi Said/Reuters

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said in a statement the action was being undertaken with "increasing support from the (US-led) international coalition forces" through both air strikes and backing from coalition special forces on the ground. The SDF, which includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia and thousands of Arab fighters, launched its multi-phased campaign in November.

Islamic State (Daesh, Isis) is also being fought in a separate campaign by the Turkish army and Syrian rebel groups northeast of Aleppo, and on several fronts across Syria by the Syrian government backed by the Russian air force and Iranian-backed militia.

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Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces take a selfie with a military vehicle supplied by the US-led coalitionDelil Souleiman/AFP
Syrian Democratic Forces gather in the countryside north of Raqqa for a briefing, to announce a new phase in their campaign for the Islamic State group's Syrian strongholdDelil Souleiman/AFP
A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces is silhouetted as he speaks on the radio during a dust stormDelil Souleiman/AFP
A volunteer British fighter talks with Syrian Democratic Forces in an area north of RaqqaRodi Said/Reuters
A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces gestures during the advance towards the Islamic State group's Syrian strongholdDelil Souleiman/AFP
Syrian Democratic Forces fighters sit on a vehicle in an area the north of RaqqaRodi Said/Reuters
Syrian Democratic Forces fighters dance in an area north of Raqqa, as they prepare to advance on the cityRodi Said/Reuters
Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters, advance in an area north-east of RaqqaDelil Souleiman/AFP
A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces speaks to a Syrian woman from Waset Hashm, a small village east of RaqqaDelil Souleiman/AFP
Syrian children from Waset Hashm, a small village east of Raqqa, help their parents gather their belongings as residents of the town prepare to leave their homes for a safer locationDelil Souleiman/AFP

Islamic State is fighting hard to preserve its Syria foothold as it loses ground in Iraq. It still holds swathes of Syrian territory, mostly in central and eastern Syria.

This is the third phase of the Raqqa operation. The first phase targeted areas north of Raqqa city. The second, targeting areas to the west of the city, is ongoing, with SDF forces yet to capture the Islamic State-held Euphrates Dam.

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