UN: Residents of IS-held al-Raqqa need to be evacuated

GENEVA/BEIRUT, Albert Otti and Weedah Hamzah (dpa) - Warring parties in Syria should halt fighting in the Islamic State-stronghold of al-Raqqa in the country's north to let thousands of civilians flee the city, UN humanitarian envoy Jan Egeland said Thursday in Geneva.
The militant extremists control five al-Raqqa neighbourhoods that are home to some 20,000 people, and the area has seen heavy shelling from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) encircling the city and by air raids by the US-led coalition against Islamic State.

"I cannot think of a worse place on earth now than in these five neighbourhoods and for these 20,000 people," Egeland told reporters.
"Now is the time to think of possibilities, pauses or otherwise, that might facilitate the escape of civilians, knowing that Islamic State fighters are doing their absolute best to use them as human shields," he said.
Late last year, humanitarian pauses allowed civilians to leave rebel-held areas of Aleppo, but Egeland said that al-Raqqa is different because the United Nations have no contact with the Islamic State forces that control the city.
Amnesty International said that thousands of civilians trapped in al-Raqqa are coming under fire from the militants and those fighting against them, all of whom must create safe ways for them to flee the frontline, according to report released on Thursday.
"Things will only get more dangerous as the battle reaches its final stages in the city centre," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's Senior Crisis Response Advisor.
"More can and must be done to preserve the lives of civilians trapped in the conflict and to facilitate their safe passage away from the battleground," Rovera said.
On Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 42 civilians, among them 19 children, were killed in coalition-led strikes on al-Raqqa.
The SDF claimed half of al-Raqqa back from Islamic State in late July. The jihadist group seized control of the city in 2014.

Friday, August 25th 2017
Albert Otti and Weedah Hamzah

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