As the fight in Syria’s Raqqa intensifies, Amnesty International is urging warring parties to prioritise the protection of civilians.

(TRT World and Agencies)

A US-led coalition campaign to oust Daesh from Syria's Raqqa had killed hundreds of civilians, and those remaining face greater risk as the fight intensifies in its final stages, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

Daesh, which took over Raqqa and its environs in 2014, uses civilians inside the northern Syrian city as human shields and targets those trying to escape with snipers and mines, Amnesty said.

"IS [Daesh] wouldn't let us leave. We had no food, no electricity," a former Raqqa resident told Amnesty, one of 98 displaced individuals it spoke to in northern Syria.

The rights group also said Russia-backed Syrian regime forces had carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians, reported to have included cluster and barrel bombs, in a separate campaign against the militants south of Raqqa city.

It said the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) must take more care as they battle for the city's central districts.

The SDF is a coalition of forces, but dominated by the YPG. Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with the PKK which has fought a bloody campaign in southeast Turkey since 1984.

"It is imperative that all the parties to the conflict take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians, including ending the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated civilian areas, in compliance with the prohibition on indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks."

Trapped Civilians

"Civilians are ... trapped in the city, under fire from all sides," Amnesty said in a report.

Amnesty criticised the US-led campaign for artillery and air strikes on areas containing civilians and asked for an end to attacks that risk being indiscriminate.

Amnesty urged the international community to urgently increase aid for fleeing civilians.

Meanwhile, the UN called on Thursday for a humanitarian pause to allow an estimated 20,000 trapped civilians to escape from Raqqa and urged the US-led coalition to rein in air strikes that have caused casualties.

"On Raqqa, our urging today from the UN side to the members of the humanitarian task force ... is that they need to do whatever is possible to make it possible for people to escape Raqqa," Jan Egeland, UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, told reporters in Geneva.

"Boats on the Euphrates must not be attacked, people who come out cannot risk air raids when and where they come out," he said.

TRT World's John Joe Regan reports from Gaziantep.

Bombardment to civilians 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said between June 5 and Wednesday it had documented the deaths of 789 civilians, 200 of them children, in Raqqa city as a result of bombardment by the US-led coalition and SDF.

Monitoring group Airwars told Reuters they believe between 725 and 993 civilians have likely been killed from coalition actions in Raqqa city since the offensive began in early June.

Hundreds more civilians have reportedly died after being fired on by Daesh or being caught in their minefields, Airwars Director Chris Woods said.

"Coalition forces have listed 16 reports of alleged casualties in or near Raqqa between 6 and 30 June, dismissing three as 'non-credible,' while 13 others are pending assessment," Amnesty said.

It called on the coalition to establish a more transparent and independent reporting procedure.

The coalition says it is very careful to avoid civilian casualties in its bombing runs against Daesh in both Syria and Iraq, and investigates any allegations.

Black smoke rises from Raqqa city, northeast Syria, Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Black smoke rises from Raqqa city, northeast Syria, Thursday, July 27, 2017. (AP)

Intensifying battle

There has been a recent increase in the number of coalition air strikes on Raqqa.

Lieutenant General Steve Townsend, the coalition's commanding general, said Raqqa was now the coalition's priority following the recapture of Iraq's Mosul from Daesh last month.

"The fight has now entered into the very hardest parts of the city. And so, our partners are needing greater assistance," Townsend told reporters in Baghdad on Wednesday.

Townsend said it was logical to assume there had been "some increase" in civilian casualties as a result of increased strikes, but that he had seen no hard evidence that casualties had increased significantly.

Daesh is on the back foot in both Syria and Iraq. 

The US-backed SDF have captured swathes of its territory in northern Syria and Syrian regime forces are making rapid advances in the central desert area.

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Source: Reuters