Final assault on IS' Syria stronghold imminent: France
The international coalition battling the Islamic State group in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa will begin a final push on the city in the coming days, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday.
"Today, we can say that Raqqa is surrounded and the battle will begin in the coming days," he told France's CNEWS television.
"This will be a very hard battle but essential," Le Drian said.
Raqqa is one of two major strongholds of IS, along with the Iraqi city of Mosul, which Iraqi forces launched a massive operation in October to recapture.
IS is under pressure from several directions in northern Syria, with Russia supporting its Syrian ally President Bashar al-Assad on one front and Turkey providing air cover for rebel groups battling the extremists on another.
The latest advance by the US-led coalition came on Tuesday as troops from the Syrian Democratic Forces were airdropped near the IS-held town of Taqba aiming to take control of a major dam in the area.
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The Tabqa dam is located around 40 km west of Raqqa, which is situated on the northeast bank of the Euphrates river, around 160km east of Aleppo.
Both the dam and a major airbase located nearbye were taken by IS in 2014 during the height of the extremist group's expansion across swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
Control of war-ravaged Syria is divided between myriad armed groups - rebels, extremists, Kurdish militia and Syrian government forces.According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in Syria's six-year war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.
Agencies contributed to this report.