**Damascus: ** The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Friday declared the “total liberation” of the Syrian city of Raqqa, which for more than three years was the de facto capital of the Islamic State group.
Speaking at a ceremony held to celebrate the liberation, Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Talal Silo paid tribute to all those killed and injured in the struggle for Raqqa, as well as all the Syrian factions that battled for 130 days to force IS from its key Syrian stronghold and their international backers.
Silo said control of the city would be handed over to civilian leaders once clearing operations were completed and that the SDF would guarantee the protection of the city and its province, CNN reported.
“Raqqa and its countryside will be a part of a democratic, decentralized and federal Syria, where the people of the province will run their own affairs,” Silo said.
A daunting task lies ahead of Raqqa’s recently created civilian council, made up of local citizens, as they seek to restore the devastated city.
As for the security part, the “internal security forces” will be tasked with securing the lives of the civilians in Raqqa.
The ceremony to mark liberation was held in the same dusty Raqqa stadium where IS fighters made their last stand earlier this week.
SDF commanders told CNN that the choice of location was intended to add insult to injury following the extremist group’s defeat there.
Local officials, dignitaries and tribal chiefs from Raqqa and neighbouring towns and cities were among those to attend, alongside members of the Syrian Democratic Council, which is tasked with starting to rebuild Raqqa.
Footage from the former soccer stadium showed jubilant SDF fighters dancing as they gathered ahead of the ceremony.
The SDF group, which is an alliance of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians among others led by the Kurdish YPG and backed by the US, said it had secured the evacuation of 450,000 civilians from Raqqa during the four-month-long battles against IS, in which they lost over 600 fighters.
It expressed gratitude to the US-led coalition, which had been backing them during the months-long battles to capture the city.
Meanwhile, the group urged the international organisations to help rebuild Raqqa, 80 per cent of which is destroyed, according to a recent report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The liberation of Raqqa constitutes the last chapter of the epic of confrontation and the fight against Daesh (IS) in Syria,” the statement read.
The Syrian government, whose forces are also fighting IS separately, so far has no comment on the statement, but previous remarks suggested the government want to restore all of Syrian areas under its control.