International NGOs are becoming increasingly alarmed by the situation in Raqqa, a stronghold of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, as more civilians suffer from both the terrorists and the US-led operation to free the city.
New eyewitness accounts from Raqqa refugees have emerged amid the US bombing campaign and the Kurdish-led forces’ ground siege. Those who managed to flee the city have told RT that “civilian people would die either from clashes or from the aircraft.” A woman claimed a checkpoint for refugees had also been “targeted by the aircraft” as she was leaving it.
While civilians have been dying in Syria because IS terrorists are “shooting people in the back as they try to flee or using them as human shields,” there are also “many” casualties “due to the coalition bombardment,” the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, told RT in an exclusive interview on Monday.
People are being killed in what Egeland described as “a horrific crossfire” in Raqqa. Such operations, especially with the use of air strikes, always put civilians’ lives at risk, he said, adding that in such densely populated area as Raqqa the bombardment from the coalition has been ongoing for a long period of time.
US-led coalition forces have assured human rights activists “that they are taking all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties,” but “when the fighters and the civilians are mixed you cannot avoid it,”Egeland said.
Meanwhile, there have also been reports that even those who manage to flee IS-controlled territory do not feel safe and their rights are allegedly being violated by US-backed militants. People report “horrific conditions” in poorly equipped refugee camps and claim that they aren’t being allowed to leave those camps even when they want to.
“It is a violation of human rights,” Egeland, of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told RT, saying that his organization is also looking into reports that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been allegedly mistreating civilians in the Raqqa area.
“We have reports that some of these SDF forces, which are Kurdish forces that are actually now around Raqqa, have not been allowing civilians who fled Raqqa to have freedom of movement out of the refugee centers,” he said.
“The SDF has imposed restrictions on freedom of movement of Syrian civilians that fled Raqqa and elsewhere – that’s for sure and that’s something we are engaging the SDF and indeed the US and others on.”
The SDF claims that they aim to filter out IS sympathizers, he explained, but said that “if there is reason to believe someone would not be a civilian but fighting with one group or the other, that person should be charged.” Otherwise, all civilians should have freedom of movement, but while it’s being allegedly violated the flow of people escaping terrorists has decreased in some areas.
“I just heard from my colleagues at Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) that their medical facilities had received very few [Raqqa refugees] of late. It is very hard for people to escape from the remaining enclaves in Raqqa,” Egeland told RT.
This year has already seen a larger number of displaced people in Syria than expected. Considering that some people have been displaced several times, the total number of such forced relocations has reached 1.3 million, according to the head of the humanitarian organization. Some 7,000 people per day have been displaced by conflict, he said, adding that “more than 200,000 people have been displaced from Raqqa alone.”
Despite the withdrawal of the majority of IS terrorists from Raqqa, the “so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by the US and allies” are still unable to capture the terrorists’ stronghold after a three-month siege, spokesman for the Russian General Staff, General Sergey Rudskoy told the media on Monday.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Islamic State is meanwhile gathering its remaining forces in Deir ez-Zor to prepare for a decisive battle, as the Syrian Army supported by the Russian Air Force pushes to retake the besieged city.