Ain Issa (Syria) (AFP) - More than 5,000 civilians have fled their homes since the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched an offensive on the Islamic State group's Syrian bastion Raqa, an SDF spokeswoman said Thursday.
"More than 5,000 displaced people have arrived in regions liberated and secured by our forces. They are coming from combat zones through a corridor we opened for them," Jihan Sheikh Ahmed told AFP.
Supported by US-led coalition air strikes, the SDF launched the offensive on Saturday, upping pressure on the jihadists who are also battling Iraqi forces in their bastion of Mosul.
The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces, has been pushing south from areas near the Turkish border towards Raqa, seizing a string of villages and moving to positions about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the city.
An AFP correspondent in the area has seen dozens of families fleeing towards SDF lines in recent days.
Many have been arriving in trucks and cars around Ain Issa, the main staging point for the operation some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Raqa, loaded down with belongings and in some cases with livestock including cows and sheep.
SDF forces have been stopping them a few kilometres (miles) from Ain Issa, checking their identities and searching their belongings.
Ahmed appealed for aid in dealing with the influx, which is likely to rise as SDF forces approach Raqa.
"We need international help because our capacities are limited and, with winter coming, there is no camp to host them," she said.
Raqa had a population of some 240,000 before the eruption of Syria's civil war in 2011 but more than 80,000 people have since fled there from other parts of the country.