For Syria regime, Raqa still occupied despite IS ouster

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Damascus (AFP)

Damascus said Sunday it still considers Raqa an occupied city, less than two weeks after a US-backed alliance drove the Islamic State group out of its onetime Syrian capital.

Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad kept out of the offensive led by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that pushed IS out of the city on October 17.

"Raqa is still an occupied city and cannot be considered liberated until the entry of the Syrian army, which is fighting IS along with its allies," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The allegations of the United States and its so-called alliance concerning the liberation of the city of Raqa from the terrorist group IS are pure lies," said the statement carried by the official SANA news agency.

It said the goal of the United States was to "divert the eyes of the international community from the crimes committed by this alliance in the province of Raqa".

That was a reference to the US-led coalition's deadly bombing campaign in the region.

IS has faced rival offensives in Syria, from the regime backed by its ally Russia, and the SDF supported by the United States and other countries.

Raqa is the latest in a string of victories for the Kurd and Arab alliance against IS on the back of the US-led bombing campaign.

The Assad regime has been able to recapture more than half of Syria's territory with the support of Russian air strikes.

It is now focusing on the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where the SDF alliance is also involved.

The Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad, before turning into a complex war that has killed more than 330,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.