The guns turned on Raqqa almost a week ago with the start of an offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces – the SDF – on the city which is the stronghold of the so-called Islamic State.
The bombardment to seize Raqqa from the jihadists who have been dug in the province for nearly three years has led to an estimated 5,000 people fleeing their homes.
They managed to escape with the help of fighters backed by Washington.
“It was hard to escape, we left as bullets flew by, I was with my family and we left our homes and everything behind. We walked for a while before the Syrian Democratic forces helped us get here to Ain. We spent a night in the cold, with no food, we have not eaten since Wednesday,” explained Hameed Salman.
The men women and children headed for the nearby village of Ain Issa. It is controlled by the SDF which is a US backed alliance of Syrian armed groups.
Some managed to escape with a handful of their possessions after taking advice from SDF fighters.
“We asked the forces what to do and they said leave your homes, escape to the west, so we did that and came here. Thank God we are safe and our children are safe,” said Fadwa Hussein.
The families had been living under the constant presence of the jihadists. The group has been overseeing daily life in the city including bakeries, banks, schools and mosques. Their every move was under surveillance as Nofa Mohammed outlined.
“Everything was expensive, nothing was accessible, we could not move around easily, we could not talk openly, nothing.“We were exhausted. What can I tell you about the last six years, I feel it was like 60 years not six.”
Many of those families which had fled Raqqa said they had to spend several days in the wilderness unsure of their next move before finally being picked up by members of the Democratic forces who took them to the safety of the nearby Ain Issa village.