US-backed forces took full control of Raqqa from the Islamic State group on Tuesday, defeating the last jihadist holdouts in the de facto Syrian capital of their now-shattered "caliphate".
The victory caps a battle of more than four months for Raqqa, and hammers another nail in the coffin of the jihadist group's experiment in statehood, which has collapsed in the face of offensives in Syria and Iraq.
Inside Raqqa, overjoyed fighters from the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces celebrated and raised their yellow flag in the city's Al-Naim traffic circle, which became known as "Hell Roundabout" after jihadists used it for gruesome public executions.
Raqqa had become a byword for atrocities carried out by the jihadists and it was from the city that IS organised devastating attacks it has claimed abroad like the Paris massacres in 2015 or August's attacks in Barcelona.
"Hell Roundabout is now Al-Naim Roundabout again," the fighters in Raqqa cheered, surrounded by crushed buildings and charred cars damaged in the ferocious battle for the city.
Rojda Felat, the SDF's commander for its Raqqa operation, flashed a wide grin as she waved a huge yellow flag emblazoned with the militia's name, her rifle hanging from her shoulder.
"God willing, joy will return to the whole city," said fighter Sevger Himo, his eyes gleaming.
The defeat of IS in Raqqa was a victory "the whole world was waiting for," said Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council formed to run the city after its liberation.
Raqqa has been devastated by fighting and emptied of civilians, with the last few thousand departing under a deal implemented over the weekend.
For Umm Abdullah, a Raqqa native who fled the city three years ago, news of its capture was overwhelming.
"I can't describe my happiness," the 44-year-old told AFP in the town of Kobane, 100 kilometres (70 miles) north of Raqqa.
'Thank God, thank God'
"When my sister told me it had been freed, she started to cry, and then I started to cry. Thank God, thank God."
The SDF broke into Raqqa in June, after months of fighting to surround the city, and on Tuesday flushed the last few hundred IS fighters from their remaining positions in the main hospital and the municipal stadium.
"Everything is finished in Raqqa, our forces have taken full control of Raqqa," the alliance's spokesman Talal Sello told AFP.
He said the SDF was combing the city for any remaining jihadists who had not surrendered or been killed.
"The military operations in Raqqa have finished, but there are clearing operations now under way to uncover any sleeper cells there might be and remove mines," he said.
The announcement came just days after the SDF launched the final phase of its operation to retake the city.
There had been fears that the force, backed by the US-led coalition battling IS in Syria and Iraq, could get bogged down in a protracted battle for the last 10 percent of the city.
But on Tuesday they captured the hospital and stadium in quick succession, effectively ending IS's more than three-year presence in the city.
Sello said an official statement announcing "the liberation of the city" would be made soon.
The US-led coalition backing the operation made no statement on the city's capture, but announced that IS had lost 87 percent of the territory it seized in 2014.
"ISIS is losing in every way," coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon added in a tweet, using an alternate acronym for the group. "We've devastated their networks and eliminated leaders at all levels."
The breakthrough in the Raqqa operation, which was launched on June 6, came after a deal was struck allowing the evacuation in recent days of civilians who had been held as human shields.
Under the deal, a total of 275 Syrian IS fighters and relatives also surrendered to the SDF, though it was unclear whether they would be given safe passage elsewhere.
IS confined to 'dwarf territory'
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Syria approves UN aid delivery to remote camp on Jordan
Tapes show Saudi journalist 'decapitated': Turkish daily
8 Palestinians injured in Israeli raids on Gaza Strip
IS defeat in east Syria taking ‘longer than expected’
Storm kills three in Oman, Yemen
Up to14mn Yemenis now at risk of famine
Top US senators vow action over Khashoggi debacle
Saudi consul leaves Istanbul for Riyadh
14 members of Iranian border guards kidnapped