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Turkey condemns 'escape' of Raqqa IS fighters

The US-backed SDF said over 3,000 civilians had left Raqqa on 14 October. [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 November, 2017

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Turkey on Wednesday condemned as "an extremely grave revelation" the escape of IS fighters from Raqqa as part of an evacuation deal which allowed civilians to leave the besieged city.
Turkey on Wednesday condemned as "an extremely grave revelation" the escape of IS fighters from Raqqa as part of an evacuation deal which allowed civilians to leave the besieged city.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said over 3,000 civilians had left Raqqa on 14 October as part of a deal negotiated between officials from the provisional Raqqa Civil Council and Syrian IS fighters. 

At the time, the US-led coalition against IS said it was "very adamant" that foreign IS fighters not be allowed to leave Raqqa.

The US-led coalition later acknowledged that of these up to 300 were seen as "potential" IS fighters, following a BBC report that hundreds of fighters, including foreigners, had left as part of the deal.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said on Tuesday that "out of the 3,500 civilians that came out of... Raqqa at that time, approximately less than 300 were identified and screened as potential (IS) fighters".

SDF forces – comprised of Kurdish and Arab fighters – recaptured Raqqa from IS in October after months of fighting.

The Turkish foreign ministry described the information as an "extremely grave and eye-opening revelation", accusing the SDF of negotiating with IS to evacuate fighters.

The SDF is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a "terror" group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) waging an insurgency inside Turkey.

Ankara has long lambasted Washington for working with and arming the YPG as the main US ally in the fight against IS.

The ministry said the purpose of the YPG was not to fight IS "but to create illegitimate faits-accomplis on the ground, to occupy territories and to alter their demographic structures," the ministry said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed he would not allow a "terror corridor" controlled by the YPG in Syria close to Turkey's border. 

He has also warned that Turkey could yet mount a military operation against the YPG to oust the group from the northern Syrian town of Afrin. 

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