300 families of IS fighters flee Syria's Raqa: monitor

Beirut (AFP) - Three hundred families of Islamic State group fighters have fled the jihadists' self-proclaimed Syrian capital of Raqa in 24 hours, as rival forces advance on the city, a monitor said Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "300 families of foreign fighters of IS have left the city of Raqa since dawn Friday to take refuge in the province of Deir Ezzor to the east and Hama to the west".

The northern city of Raqa is the target of advancing Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces as well as Syrian government troops supported by Russia.

The Observatory's head, Rami Abdel Rahman, said that IS families were using the only remaining escape route, on boats across the Euphrates River to the south.

President Bashar al-Assad stressed in a television interview broadcast on Saturday that the recapture of Raqa was a "priority" for his forces.

"We have come very close to Raqa now... Our forces have reached the banks of the Euphrates, very close to the city of Raqa," he told the Chinese channel Phoenix.

"It will therefore be a priority for us," he said, in comments carried by Syria's state news agency SANA.

The United States on Thursday also turned up the heat on the jihadists, sending an additional 400 American troops into Syria to support operations to retake Raqa.

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