Syria forces impose ‘curfew’ in Raqa fearing instability, IS

People buy fruits and vegetables at a market in the Syrian city of Raqa. (AFP pic)

BEIRUT: Security forces in Syria’s Raqa announced a two-day curfew starting Sunday, citing instability in the northern city and fears of possible Islamic State group attacks.

But they also used the curfew to act against a rival rebel group in Raqa, according to the targeted faction and a war monitor.

IS was kicked out of its de facto Syrian capital of Raqa in October by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which then stood up police units to hold the city.

On Sunday, the Raqa Internal Security Forces said it had received “information that terrorist groups working on behalf of Daesh (IS)… have entered Raqa city to carry out attacks against stability and security”.

It therefore decided to put in place “a state of emergency and a curfew in Raqa city starting at 5:00 am (0200 GMT) on Sunday June 24, 2018, until 5:00 am on Tuesday”.

IS lost Raqa after four months of ferocious fighting and bombing by the SDF and the US-led coalition that left the city in ruins.

The SDF has since whittled down IS territory elsewhere in Syria’s north and east to just a handful of isolated pockets, but security incidents around Raqa itself have risen in recent weeks.

On Friday, IS claimed its first attack in Raqa province since being ousted, announcing through a propaganda media channel that it had detonated a roadside bomb northeast of the city.

An SDF fighter was also killed on June 15 at a checkpoint north of Raqa, in what the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said was an IS attack.

And earlier this month, five police officers linked to the SDF were killed in a roadside blast during a routine patrol in Raqa city.

The group did not claim responsibility for either incident.

In addition to those incidents, tensions have been high in the city because of demonstrations calling for the Syrian government to return to Raqa.

On Sunday the SDF said in a statement that the curfew was put in place because of rising instability, including “terrorist operations” and those protests.

The curfew was accompanied by early morning raids that “targeted terrorist cells and groups aimed at rocking the city’s security and stability,” said the statement.

“A number of terrorists were arrested and large amounts of weapons and ammunitions were seized, as well as documents confirming the responsibility of a multiple factions in the explosions and terrorist operations that targeted Raqa in the recent period,” it added.

Among those targeted was the Raqa Revolutionaries Brigade, an Arab faction whose fighters are from the city and who previously fought alongside the Kurdish-dominated SDF.

The Brigade posted a statement on its Facebook page Sunday saying its headquarters in Raqa had been surrounded by the SDF.

The SDF on Sunday arrested more than 90 members of the Brigade, the Observatory said.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the curfew had been imposed because of “tensions” between the SDF and the Brigade “more than the IS attacks”.