The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (Isis) says a deal negotiated by local officials and tribesmen has been reached in Syria's Raqqa to evacuate civilians and local Isis fighters but not foreign militants.
Omar Alloush, an official from the Local Raqqa Council, confirmed the deal on Saturday 14 October saying local fighters have been included in the evacuation. He didn't immediately comment on the number of evacuees. The deal was negotiated by the Raqqa Civilian Council and tribal leaders.
In a statement, the coalition said it is not involved in the talks but "believes that it will save lives" and allow the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the coalition to focus on defeating Isis in Raqqa with less risk to civilians.
The deal reached on Thursday allows the SDF to screen and search all those leaving the area. The coalition said a convoy of vehicles is to leave Raqqa later Saturday.
News of the evacuation deal followed reports from the US-led coalition in Raqqa that the militants remaining in the Syrian city are likely left with only small arms to fight for the sliver of land they still control there.
The coalition said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Saturday that Isis militants still in Raqqa are completely cut off from their leadership and likely have only pistols, rifles, light machine guns, and a dwindling supply of ammunition.
Despite this assessment, the coalition says it expects difficult days ahead until Raqqa, once the militants' de facto capital, is retaken. Earlier in the week, the coalition estimated that 300 to 400 militants remained in the city. Losing Raqqa would be a major blow to the militant group.
A spokesman for the Kurdish militia that forms the backbone of the SDF, Nouri Mahmoud, says Isis extremists still in Raqqa are mostly suicide bombers and special units that go behind enemy lines. Mustafa Bali, the spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said on Saturday that this final battle could take hours or days.
On Friday 13 October, a local official said an estimated 100 militants surrendered. Civilians have also filtered out of the few remaining neighborhoods in the hands of Isis. US officials have reported intense bombing campaign in the last few hours.
The battle for Raqqa began in June 2017, with heavy street-by-street fighting amid intense US-led coalition airstrikes and shelling. The battle has dragged in the face of stiff resistance from the militants and civilians trapped in the city.
Meanwhile, Syria state media say pro-government troops have seized the town of Mayadeen, an Isis stronghold in the country's east, after weeks of fighting with the militants.
The Central Military Media, an outlet affiliated with the Syrian military, says the military and allied troops regained full control of the town on Saturday 14 October, after intense fighting with the militants.
The pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying the militants' defences collapsed. The official says troops are chasing remnants of the militants out of Mayadeen while military corps of engineers are clearing landmines left in the town.
Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government troops, backed by Shiite militias, have taken control of the town but are still combing it for militants. Mayadeen has emerged as refuge for the Isis leadership after several other strongholds in Syria crumbled.