Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati report: There is a moment in the journey into Raqqa when you leave the real world behind. After the bombed-out Samra bridge, any signs of normal life vanish.
Turn right at the shop that once sold gravestones – its owner is long gone – and you are inside the city.
Ahead lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble.
This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn’t see a single civilian.
They are somewhere inside, trapped by the so-called Islamic State and the Western coalition’s bombing campaign.
IS uses them as human shields, and as bait, to lure out the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition’s air strikes and artillery.
It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city.
Their target is the last men of the Islamic State. There may be as few as 400 left. [Continue reading…]