IS militants stiffen defenses against intensified air strikes by France and Russia

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In retaliation to the Paris attacks, international air strikes, by France and Russia, have been intensified, with possible assaults on the ISIS’s de facto capital, Raqqa. Former residents have said that the fighters are hiding in civilian neighborhoods and are preventing anyone from fleeing. They also added that air strikes from France and Russia happen daily and the northern Syrian city’s estimated 350,000 residents are gripped by fear of being trapped,amid signs of looming ground invasion by the US-allied Kurdish and Arab forces, with nowhere to go.

Former residents said that the militants have been stepping up defenses in Raqqa since late October, after the Democratic Forces launched their campaign vowing to retake the city. Shortly afterward, IS banned local residents from leaving the city and have stepped up the enforcement of the ban in the past few days, leading to fears that the group intends to use civilians as human shields in future fighting. An activist, Khaled, who used this name as identity for security reasons, said that they have changed their bases to now abandoned houses in Raqqa, to avoid being attacked at their usual hideouts.

After the IS claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks that killed 129 people, Syria, specially IS-held towns in the northern and eastern parts, are now under increased risks of air strikes by anti-ISIS forces, with backing from American lead air strikes.

Iraqi officials told Associated Press that the operation was planned in Raqqa, where the attackers were trained specifically for this particular operation, with the intention of sending them to France. The attacks took place soon after the IS claimed the downing of a Russian plane in Egypt, as well as deadly suicide bombings in Lebanon and Turkey.

US secretary of state, John Kerry, suggested that Raqqa would be the new focus. After meeting with French President Francois Hollande, he said that, his sense was that everybody understands that with Lebanon’s attacks, with what’s happened in Egypt, with Ankara, Turkey, with the attacks now in Paris, the ISIS’s core needs to be attacked.

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