Aid groups: Dire situation for civilians in IS-controlled al-Raqqa

BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa) – Trapped civilians in the north-eastern Syrian city of al-Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital, have almost no access to medical care and are at risk of epidemics, aid and UN agencies said on Tuesday.
The warnings from international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) come as US-backed forces are fighting the extremist group which seized al-Raqqa in 2014.

"Patients tell us large numbers of sick and wounded people are trapped inside al-Raqqa city with little or no access to medical care and scant chance of escaping the city," said Vanessa Cramond, MSF's medical coordinator for Turkey and north Syria.
Some patients treated by MSF who managed to flee al-Raqqa said the only way to leave is by being smuggled out, causing dangerous delays in accessing urgent medical treatment, she said.
OCHA said it was concerned about the safety of thousands of civilians trapped inside al-Raqqa as military operations in the area continue.
"The health conditions in al-Raqqa are reportedly rapidly deteriorating, with people at risk of epidemic diseases such as cholera and hepatitis, as an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people remain trapped," OCHA said in a statement.
More than 200,000 men, women and children have been displaced since April 1, including 32,510 since June, the UN agency said.
The Us-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a military operation to retake al-Raqqa in November.
SDF fighters were making "strategic advances" in the city's south and capturing new neighbourhoods, said SDF sources and a monitoring group.
Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the SDF managed to take control of the neighbourhood of Nazlet Shahada south of the city.
They also took control of large parts of the adjacent neighbourhood of Hisham Bin Abdel Malik, after advancing in the south from both the eastern and western fronts.
SDF spokesman Mustapha Bali said Islamic State was no longer present in the south of al-Raqqa.
"Our fighters have the upperhand in southern neighbourhoods and they continue to advance," Bali said.
Abdel-Rahman said that SDF fighters were only a few hundred metres from Islamic State's main headquarters in Clock Square, where the extremist group has carried out executions.

Wednesday, August 2nd 2017
Weedah Hamzah

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