UN: 27 people killed in campaign to liberate al-Raqqa every day



NEW YORK, Helen Corbett (dpa) - The international community "cannot hold its head up high" while an estimated 27 people are killed in the campaign to retake al-Raqqa every day, the United Nations' outgoing humanitarian chief said in a briefing Wednesday.
Stephen O'Brien urged all parties involved in the conflict to protect civilians as the fight to take back the Syrian city from the extremist militia group Islamic State reaches its final stages.



"Be in no doubt, the heinous fault lies with the fighters and their masters on every side, but the international community cannot hold its head up high when it comes to protection."
O'Brien used his final briefing to the UN Security Council in New York to urge the fighting parties to take very possible measure to protect civilians, "however difficult or however constraining they may feel it is on their military action."
O'Brien echoed comments from the UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, who called for a "humanitarian pause" on Wednesday to allow civilians to leave al-Raqqa.
Up to 25,000 civilians are still trapped in parts of the city controlled by the extremist militia, Adama Dieng said in a statement.
Dieng cited reports that Islamic State is using civilians as human shields and killing those who try to escape, while coalition forces are targeting boats on the Euphrates river, one of the main remaining escape routes for civilians.
Dieng urged all parties to take measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law as fighting intensifies.
"The legitimate aim of retaking Raqqa must not be achieved at such a high cost to civilians," Dieng said.
UN humanitarian envoy Jan Egeland last week told reporters in Geneva that humanitarian pauses allowed civilians to leave rebel-held areas of Aleppo last year.
But Egeland said al-Raqqa is different because the UN has no contact with the Islamic State forces that control the city.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces claimed half of al-Raqqa back from Islamic State in late July. The jihadist group seized control of the city in 2014.
The UN's Syria mediator Staffan De Mistura, speaking via video link to the Security Council in New York, stressed the importance of the parties involved in the conflict reaching a sustainable political solution as they draw closer to liberating al-Raqqa.
De Mistura said he hoped two consecutive weeks of talks in Geneva scheduled for October would yield "serious and concrete" negotiation with the Syrian government.
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Thursday, August 31st 2017
Helen Corbett
           


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