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‘Staggering’ loss of life in deadly battle for Raqqa

UN: attempts to liberate civilians taking a toll

UNITED NATIONS investigators said yesterday that the international effort to liberate Raqqa is resulting in a “staggering” loss of life.

The mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are spearheading the assault on the Isis-held city, which is being aerially bombarded by a coalition of states led by the US.

Independent Commission of Inquiry for Syria chairman Paolo Pinheiro told the UN human rights council that Isis was conducting an “ongoing and unaddressed genocide” in Raqqa, and noted that the terror group’s rapid losses to the SDF and Syrian army could “liberate the city’s civilian population from the group’s oppressive clutches, including Yazidi women and girls, whom the group has kept sexually enslaved for almost three years.”

But he added that an intensified wave of bombings had killed large numbers of civilians and forced an estimated 160,000 to flee their homes.

Similar dilemmas have been faced by the Iraqi and Syrian militaries as they seek to dislodge Islamist rebels from urban areas.

Mr Pinheiro also expressed concern that “de-escalation zones” in Syria don’t work, with only one of four zones identified in a recent deal sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey actually seeing a reduction in fighting.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned last week that the fighting around Raqqa was killing civilians, destroying infrastructure and causing critical shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

And Human Rights Watch

said yesterday that the US-led coalition had bombarded Raqqa with white phosphorus, which is illegal under international law in civilian areas because it can spark deadly fires and burn through the bone.

The US refused to comment on whether the chemical had been used in Raqqa but stated that it only uses white phosphorus “in accordance with the law of armed conflict in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”

However, its own guidelines for soldiers offer conflicting accounts of when the incendiary weapon can be used. The United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia have all been accused of deploying it against civilians in recent conflicts.

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