US-backed coalition of armed groups aims to oust ISIL from its de facto capital of Raqqa.
Kurdish-led forces have massed thousands of fighters as part of a military offensive to take over Raqqa, the northern Syrian city controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group for more than two and a half years.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed coalition of armed groups led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), said it has mobilised thousands of fighters in the countryside north of Raqqa.
Fighting was reportedly ongoing on Tuesday near Ain Issa, situated 55km from the ISIL-controlled city.
SDF released a statement declaring its goal of "liberating" Raqqa from ISIL, which has ruled the town with an iron fist, according to rights groups and activists.
The US-led coalition against ISIL was supporting the offensive, spokesman Steve Warren said.
"We have always been focused on evicting ISIS from Raqqa and we will continue to support the SDF as they conduct ground operations to further isolate the city," the colonel said. "The US-led coalition will continue to provide air support for SDF operations against ISIS."
Writing on Twitter, Syria analyst Charles Lister said ISIL may launch retaliatory attacks in Kurdish-held areas
On Monday, ISIL suicide bombers struck in several areas of Tartus and Jableh, government-held cities on Syria's coastline, killing at least 150 civilians.
Syria's conflict started with mostly unarmed demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. It has since evolved into a full-on civil war that has killed at least 270,000 people, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, estimated last month that the actual death toll could be as high as 400,000 people.
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|Allen L. Jasson|