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Syria’s SDF rebels capture parts of ISIL-held Raqqa

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US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have captured several strategic neighbourhoods just outside of ISIL’s de facto capital in Raqqa province, the group said in a press release.

The SDF made gains outside Raqqa city, where Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) fighters are currently surrounded by the Kurdish forces.

SDF said they captured al-Romaniya neighbourhood west of Raqqa city early on Monday.

Al-Romaniya is the third neighbourhood of Raqqa city to be captured by the SDF since the launch of the fifth phase of the Raqqa offensive last week.

The SDF, a group of Kurdish and Arab fighters, are currently battling ISIL for control of Sinaaya and Hetin neighbourhoods east and west of Raqqa city, the press release said.

ISIL captured Raqqa from rebel groups in 2014 and has since used it as their home base.

The US-led coalition said 3,000 to 4,000 ISIL fighters are thought to be holed up in Raqqa city, in which about 160,000 civilians remain, according to the UN.

The SDF forces have captured several neighbourhoods in Raqqa city since Tuesday, including the eastern neighbourhood of Mashlab.

Backed by US- coalition air strikes, the SDF began a major offensive on Tuesday to seize the city.

Ahmad, a Tabqa-based activist who would only give his first name, told Al Jazeera that civilians are expecting ISIL to retreat or surrender in a matter of days.

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