Syrian Kurdish-led fighters close in on Islamic State stronghold Raqqa
A Syrian Kurdish-led force fighting the Islamic State group are on the verge of surrounding a wide area north of the IS stronghold of Raqqa, according to a spokeswoman for the group.
Cihan Ehmed of the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces said its fighters are advancing on two fronts north of Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS' self-declared caliphate.
The push from Ein Issa and Suluk north of Raqqa has been ongoing for days under the cover of air strikes by the US-led coalition.
The US-backed SDF, which includes Kurdish, Arab, Syriac and Turkmen fighters, say they have committed 30,000 fighters to the offensive aiming to eventually recapture the city of Raqqa, which was announced on Sunday. Meanwhile, Iraq is waging a major offensive to drive IS from the northern city of Mosul.
Ms Ehmed said once the forces coming from the two directions meet north of Raqqa, they will surround 212 square miles of territory controlled by the extremists.
"The operations are ongoing according to the plan," she said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many people are fleeing areas of fighting north of Raqqa. It added that SDF fighters have advanced north of Raqqa, capturing new areas and raising to 17 the number of villages and farms taken from IS since the offensive began.
Later on Thursday, the SDF said on social media that its fighters have captured three farms, a village, and have approached the village of Hayes where intense clashes are ongoing.
The operation to recapture Raqqa has been dubbed "Euphrates Rage" and a joint operations command has been set up to co-ordinate various factions taking part in the battles.
Elsewhere in Syria, seven people were wounded, some critically, when rebels shelled two government-held neighbourhoods in the northern city of Aleppo, state news agency SANA said.
In the capital Damascus, a rocket fired by rebels struck a school in the central al-Mohajireen neighbourhood wounding three children, state media said.