Raqqa offensive should start after end of Mosul, Euphrates Shield ops: Turkish deputy PM

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The operation to liberate Syria’s Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should start after operations to retake Mosul from jihadists and Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation end, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said Oct. 31. 

“Turkey’s idea on a Raqqa operation is clear. We are for [an operation] in Raqqa to be made consisting of the people of Raqqa. It is our opinion that it will be the correct thing to conduct [the Raqqa operation] – both militarily and strategically – after the Mosul and Euphrates Shield operations end,” he said.

Kurtulmuş made the comments after a cabinet meeting that was convened under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at his palace in Ankara.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Oct. 25 that an attack on Raqqa would start while the battle of Mosul in neighboring Iraq was still unfolding.

Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters started the offensive on Iraq’s Mosul on Oct. 17, with air and ground support from the U.S.-led coalition against the hardline Sunni group of ISIL.

Advancing Iraq troops broke through ISIL defense lines in an eastern suburb of Mosul on Oct. 31, taking the battle for the insurgent stronghold to inside the city limits for the first time, a force commander said.

They made the gain as the offensive to recapture Mosul – the largest military operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 – entered its third week.

Commanders had warned earlier that the battle for the city, the hardline militants’ de facto capital in Iraq, could take weeks and possibly months.

Troops of the Iraqi army’s Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) moved forward on Gogjali, an industrial zone on the eastern outskirts, on Oct. 31 after two weeks of fighting to clear surrounding areas of the insurgents, Reuters reported.

They then reached Karama district, their first advance into the city itself, an officer said.

“They have entered Mosul,” he said. “They are fighting now in the Hay [district of] Karama.”

A Reuters correspondent in the village of Bazwaia saw plumes of smoke rising from a built-up area a few kilometers away, with a commander saying the flames were the result of clashes in Karama.

The fighting ahead is likely to be more difficult as civilians still live there, unlike most villages taken so far by the Iraqi forces which were emptied of their Christian population.

ISIL singled out religious minorities in northern Iraq, including Christians and Yazidis, for killing and eviction after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014 over territory they captured there and in neighboring Syria.

Their seizure of Mosul and surrounding towns effectively drove Christians from the area for the first time in two millennia.

A handful of faithful gathered in a burnt-out church Oct. 30 for the first mass to be celebrated in two years in Qaraqosh, which was once Iraq’s main Christian town, AFP reported.

Iraqi forces retook Qaraqosh from ISIL days earlier, as part of the Mosul massive offensive.

“After two years and three months in exile, I just celebrated the Eucharist in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception the Islamic State wanted to destroy,” Yohanna Petros Mouche, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, said.

“But in my heart it was always there,” Mouche, who officiated with four priests, told AFP.

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