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U.S.-Backed Forces Capture Territory On Edge Of Raqqa Amid Heavy Clashes

Syrians who fled the Islamic State (IS) group stronghold of Raqqa ride with their belongings on a truck in an area near the village of Balaban, south of Jarablus, on June 8.

A U.S.-backed Syrian Arab-Kurdish coalition has captured territory on the western edge of Raqqa, the extremist group Islamic State's (IS) stronghold and self-declared capital in Syria, a monitoring group says.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on June 9 that fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were also advancing on the eastern part of the city.

The group said SDF forces took parts of the district of Jazra, west of Raqqa, backed by U.S.-led air support. Heavy clashes were reportedly continuing in the neighborhood.

The Syrian Observatory said at least 15 civilians were killed on June 8 after an air strike hit an Internet cafe.

It added that at least seven other civilians were killed in air strikes late on June 8 and early on June 9.

Meanwhile, the United Nations children's agency estimated that 40,000 children "remain trapped in extremely dangerous conditions in Raqqa."

"Many are caught in the crossfire," UNICEF official Geert Cappelaere said, urging all parties to give safe passage to those who want to leave.

Separately, the Russian military accused the U.S.-led coalition of providing safe corridors for IS fighters to leave the area around Raqqa in an effort to prevent Syrian government forces taking territory.

Russian Colonel General Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Syria, said IS made a deal earlier this month with the Kurdish forces to leave two villages southwest of Raqqa and move toward Palmyra.

Surovikin said the U.S.-led coalition forces "collude with the leaders of the IS, who surrender the areas under their control and head to provinces where Syrian government forces operate."

There was no immediate reaction from the United States to Surovikin's allegations.

Russia supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States backs rebel groups fighting Assad's government in the six-year civil war. Both sides oppose the IS fighters.

The offensive on Raqqa comes at a time when U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces say they are close to fully liberating Mosul, the final significant IS stronghold in Iraq.

IS militants seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq in an offensive in June 2014.

With reporting by AFP and AP