UN says 300 Raqqa civilians killed in US-led air strikes since March

The UN announced that 'excessive air strikes' to help Syria regain control over the city of Raqqa have caused 'staggering loss of civilian life.'

Aamaq News Agency/AP
US-led airstrikes targeting ISIS have caused extensive damage to the northern Syria city of Raqqa, June 10, 2017.

Intensified coalition air strikes have killed at least 300 civilians in the Syrian northern city of Raqqa since March, as US-backed forces close in on the stronghold of Islamic State (ISIS) forces, United Nations war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led coalition, began to attack Raqqa a week ago to take it from the jihadists. The SDF, supported by heavy coalition air strikes, have taken territory to the west, east and north of the city.

"Coalition air strikes have intensified around the city," said Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry.

"As the operation is gaining pace very rapidly, civilians are caught up in the city under the oppressive rule of ISIL, while facing extreme danger associated with movement due to excessive air strikes," he told reporters.

Karen Abuzayd, an American commissioner on the independent panel, said, "We have documented the deaths caused by the coalition air strikes only and we have about 300 deaths, 200 in one place, in al-Mansoura, one village."

The UN investigators do not have access to Syria. They interview survivors and witnesses in neighboring countries or by Skype with those still in Syria.

Mr. Pinheiro, speaking earlier to the UN Human Rights Council, said that there had been a "staggering loss of civilian life" due to coalition air strikes that had forced 160,000 civilians to flee their homes.

Rival forces are racing to capture ground from ISIS around Raqqa, and the Syrian army is also advancing on the desert area west of the city.

Concern about phosphorus

Separately, Human Rights Watch expressed concern in a statement about the use of incendiary white phosphorous weapons by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, saying it endangered civilians when used in populated areas.

White phosphorus is not banned as a chemical weapon and can legally be used on battlefields to make smoke screens, generate illumination, mark targets or burn bunkers and buildings. But it can cause serious burns and start fires.

In its speech to the 47-member forum in Geneva, the United States delegation made no reference to Raqqa or the air strikes. US diplomat Jason Mack called the Syrian government "the primary perpetrator" of egregious human rights violations in the country.

Pinheiro said that if the international coalition's offensive is successful, it could liberate Raqqa's civilian population, including Yazidi women and girls, "whom the group has kept sexually enslaved for almost three years as part of an ongoing and unaddressed genocide." He also said that 10 agreements between the Syrian government and armed groups to evacuate fighters and civilians from besieged areas, including eastern Aleppo last December, "in some cases amount to war crimes" as civilians had "no choice."

Syria's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Hussam Edin Aaala, denounced violations "committed by the unlawful US-led coalition which targets infrastructure, killing hundreds of civilians including the deaths of 30 civilians in Deir al-Zor."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.