US Officials: Fight for Raqqa 'Could Begin in the Coming Days'
American military officials say U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have pushed within three kilometers of Islamic State's de-facto capital in Syria, and the major battle for control of Raqqa from Islamic State militants "could begin in the coming days."
Speaking to reporters from Baghdad, U.S.-led counter ISIS coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said the SDF is "poised around Raqqa," after gaining 350 square kilometers from Islamic State in Syria in the last week.
The forces are within three kilometers from Raqqa city to the north and the east and about 10 kilometers from the city to the west, according to Dillon.
"The fight for the city could begin in the coming days," a U.S. military official separately told VOA on the condition of anonymity. "The encirclement of Raqqa is almost complete."
The U.S. military confirmed earlier this week that it has started distributing weapons and vehicles to Syrian Kurdish fighters in preparation for the Raqqa battle. That move has placed the United States at odds with NATO ally Turkey, which contends the SDF's Syrian Kurdish militia is a terrorist group affiliated with the outlawed PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a terror group that has been battling the Turkish state for many years.
Dillon said the SDF has instructed Raqqa citizens to leave the city ahead of the fighting, with nearly 200,000 people already displaced. Camps for displaced citizens have been established around the Syrian city, Dillon added, with SDF screening sites in place to prevent Islamic State militants from escaping among the fleeing civilian population.
Trump to Keep US Israeli Embassy in Tel Aviv for Now
Trump, in his long campaign for the presidency, vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem to concur with the Israeli government's long-standing preference. But the issue is caught in the unending debate over the creation of separate Jewish and Palestinian states, with both the Israelis and Palestinians claiming Jerusalem as their capitals.
The White House said Thursday that Trump's decision to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, where most other foreign governments also have stationed their Israeli diplomats, should not be considered "in any way a retreat from the president's strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance."
The White House statement said Trump made the choice "to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians."
"As he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy," White House officials said, "the question is not if that move happens, but only when."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was disappointed with Trump's decision. However, Netanyahu said he hopes the U.S. embassy will eventually move to Jerusalem and that he appreciates the U.S. president's expression of friendship.
"Israel's consistent position is that the American embassy, like the embassies of all countries with whom we have diplomatic relations, should be in Jerusalem, our eternal capital," Netanyahu said.