Backed forces fighting Islamic State enter Syria stronghold of Raqqa

Smoke rises from the Raqqa province Syria

Meanwhile, the United Nations children's agency estimated that 40,000 children "remain trapped in extremely risky conditions in Raqqa".

The violence has displaced residents in and around the city, with about 80,000 children living in temporary shelters and camps, UNICEF said in a statement.

The U.S. -led coalition estimates that Raqqa, which Islamic State seized from Syrian rebels in 2014 during their lightning advance in Syria and Iraq, is defended by 3,000-4,000 jihadists.

UNICEF warned "an estimated 40,000 children remain trapped in risky conditions in Raqqa city".

In addition to holding part of Al-Sabahiya in Raqa's west, the alliance also controls the eastern neighbourhood of Al-Meshleb.

He called on all parties to provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city. "They then advanced north to the adjacent district of Al-Romaniya and are fighting IS there", he told AFP.

The Observatory said rebels launched an attack on government forces near the area where the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi borders meet.

The monitor said heavy clashes were continuing in other parts of the neighbourhood, where at least 15 civilians were killed on Thursday night in the air strikes that hit an internet cafe.

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Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said heavy strikes continued on Friday morning as the coalition tried "to undermine ISIS capacity and open the way for the SDF to advance further in the city's east and enter from other fronts".

US-backed fighters gained ground against Daesh (the so-called IS) group in the streets of Raqa on Wednesday, a day after their months-long offensive finally broke into the militants' Syrian bastion.

SDF fighters were armed mostly with light weapons including Kalashnikovs, and were also returning mortar fire on ISIL positions.

The SDF has scored a series of victories since launching its operation to take Raqa in November, including capturing the strategic town of Tabqa and its adjacent dam in May. "It raises a question why they do it and what their real goals are".

A Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, said "hundreds" of United States military personnel were taking part in the Raqa offensive.

“Instead of eliminating terrorists guilty of hundreds and thousands of Syrian civilian deaths, the US-led worldwide coalition alongside with their proxies, Syrian Democratic Forces, collude with IS field commanders, who surrender their positions and sites without resistance and head towards the regions where Syrian government forces actively conduct military operations, ” he said.

That decrease could indicate IS intends to use remaining civilians "as human shields", the aid group said.

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