US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian forces have announced the start of a campaign to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa from the extremist group.
The announcement by the Syrian Democratic Forces was made Sunday at a press conference in Ein Issa, north of Raqqa.
It comes more than two weeks after US-backed Iraqi forces began a campaign to clear IS militants from their stronghold in Mosul, Iraq.
The SDF is dominated by the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The United States considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters as the most effective force against the IS, but Turkey views them as a terror organization and has said it will not accept a role for the Kurds in the liberation of Raqqa.
Pro-Kurdish party limits action in Turkish parliament
Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party announced Sunday that it will halt its legislative activities in parliament following the arrests of nine of its lawmakers.
Yet Ayhan Bilgen, the spokesman for the Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP, told The Associated Press that the party will not withdraw from parliament, saying that decision can only “be made in consultation with the people.” The party will stop participating in parliamentary commissions and the parliamentary assembly.
Instead the HDP will “go house to house” listening to the people following “the most extensive and darkest attack in our democratic political history,” Bilgen said at a news conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.
HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag were arrested Friday on terrorism-related charges, along with seven other lawmakers. The move prompted messages of concern from the U.S. and Europe that the arrests undermined Turkey’s democracy.
The HDP entered parliament last year as the nation’s third-largest party with 59 lawmakers. In May, Turkey’s parliament voted to strip lawmakers who have complaints against them of legal immunity, paving the way for the arrests.
Turkey’s government accuses the HDP of being the political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has waged a three-decades-long insurgency against the state. The party rejects the accusation.
Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli told private broadcaster NTV that the HDP’s decision to halt its participation would not have a negative effect on legislation.