Syrian forces pause offensive on IS-held dam for repairs

IS warns dam could collapse 'at any moment'

TABQA - US-backed Syrian fighters on Monday paused their offensive for a key dam held by the Islamic State group to allow a technical team to enter the complex, a spokeswoman said.
There have been fears about the integrity of the dam after fighting in the area forced it out of service on Sunday, following earlier UN warnings that a collapse would be "catastrophic."
With air support from the US-led coalition against IS, the Syrian Democratic Forces are fighting to seize the town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam on the Euphrates River, as part of their battle for the jihadist's stronghold in nearby Raqa.
"To ensure the integrity of the Tabqa dam... we have decided to stop operations for four hours beginning at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT)," SDF spokeswoman Jihad Sheikh Ahmed said in a statement.
"This is to allow a team of engineers to enter the dam and carry out their work," she added.
The IS-held structure was forced out of service on Sunday after its power station was damaged, a source there said.
The UN has warned that damage to the dam "could lead to massive scale flooding across Raqa and as far away as Deir Ezzor" province downstream to the southeast with "catastrophic humanitarian implications."
The source at the dam said on Monday that a technical team "will assess the level of damage and repair what is needed so that the dam can resume its operations, after it was put out of service yesterday."
IS issued warnings through its propaganda agency Amaq on Sunday that the dam could collapse "at any moment".
The US-led coalition said Monday it was "taking every precaution" to ensure the structure's integrity.
The SDF had also denied the dam was damaged, and said military operations around it were being conducted "slowly and with precision".
The alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters launched its offensive for Raqa city in November, seizing around two thirds of the surrounding province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At their closest point, they are just eight kilometres (five miles) from the city, to the northeast.
But they are mostly further away, 18-29 kilometres from Raqa.