News compilation on A Socialist In Canada, Oct 13, 2017
Introduction by Roger Annis:
U.S. warplanes continue to rain death and destruction on the civilians of Raqqa as the U.S. its allied ground forces, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, continue their drive to seize the city from ISIS forces. Below are news articles reporting on the horror as hundreds of civilians continue to die from U.S. bombardments. Food, water, medicine and electricity in the city are scarce.
The UNHCR reports that some 270,000 people have fled their homes in Al Raqqa Governorate since the beginning of April 2017.
Citing Agence France presse news agency, Middle East Eye reports on October 13 that the U.S. and SDF have refused to consider a ceasefire that would allow ISIS fighters to freely withdraw from the city. Such an agreement could avoid further catastrophic physical destruction of the city and the accompanying humanitarian tragedy.
The refusal to contemplate a ceasefire and withdrawal contrasts sharply with the many ceasefire agreements reached by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies during the past several years with right-wing, jihadi forces in the west of the country.
The most well-known of these agreements was that in December 2016 covering the eastern districts of Aleppo city. Western governments and media condemned that agreement. In a truly bizarre phrasing at the time, a purveyor of United Nations-style ‘human rights’, Rupert Colville, called the ceasefire agreement “the end of humanity”. The UN official’s phrase was then headlined around the world. My article on the subject at the time, dated December 15, 2016 (also weblinked below), was refused publication by several left-wing outlets for which I had been publishing until then.
Last month, the Syrian army broke a years long siege of the city of Deir Ez-Zor. It is located some 125 km south and east of Raqqa in north-central Syria. Both cities are located on the Euphrates River, which flows south and east into Iraq. The pre-war population of Raqqa was 300,000.
Update: U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces reach agreement to allow withdrawal of Islamic State fighters from Raqqa, Syria, Reuters, Oct 13, 2017 Agreement is supposed to be effected during the overnight of October 14/15
Families fleeing Syria’s Raqqa say air strikes bring heavy toll
By John Davison, Reuters, Thursday, Oct 12, 2017 (with extensive photos at original weblink)
RAQQA, Syria – Air raids by U.S. coalition warplanes have intensified in recent days as Kurdish and Arab militias seek to drive surrounded Islamic State militants from their last strongholds in Syria’s Raqqa — but the toll on civilians has been severe.
Hundreds of civilians fled the city on Thursday, many wounded and malnourished after being trapped for months by fighting between Islamic State and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Those who fled said the sheer intensity of the bombardment appeared to have made militants shift their positions, retreat or hide underground, giving civilians a window in which to escape.
Abdullah Ali’s burns were still raw from an air strike that brought down his building and killed his entire family a week ago in central Raqqa. “My wife, mum, dad, all 14 people in my family were killed. Their bodies are trapped under rubble,” the 24-year-old said, sitting outside a mosque on Raqqa’s outskirts.
Ali’s neighbor Abdo Hussein said more than 50 people were in the building when the air strike hit. Just a handful survived and 13 bodies had been pulled out, he said.
The offensive to drive Islamic State out of Raqqa, its de facto Syrian capital which it seized in 2014, has long outlasted initial predictions by SDF officials who said ahead of a final assault in June that it could take just weeks. The SDF said last week the city could be declared captured in the coming days.
There are still several hundred militants in the city and thousands of residents, the coalition says, many of them believed to be held hostage by IS in a hospital and nearby stadium.
“People had tried to escape before but were shot at by Daesh (Islamic State). I even saw them kill a two-year-old child,” Um Moussa, 38, said, sitting inside the mosque. “This morning they didn’t seem to be around, or weren’t firing. My son saw hordes of people leaving so we decided to go for it. I’d been sleeping fully dressed — we were ready to flee at the first chance,” she said, wearing black robes and a face veil required under Islamic State’s strict laws.
But weakening the militants with air power has come at a high cost in civilian lives, she and others said. “Yesterday four entire families were killed in our area. It’s strike after strike.”
Scared and surrendering
All those who escaped on Thursday came from a district near the stadium. They said many buildings had been hit as Islamic State fighters fired from them. “Each building has dozens of civilians in it, so of course many have died,” said Hussein.
Air strikes were precise, often taking out a single building without damaging those next door, but militants often managed to leave before the missiles hit, he said.
The coalition says it takes great pains to avoid causing civilian casualties and investigates all reports that it has done so.
Residents described miserable living conditions and lack of food, water and medical aid with the remaining areas Islamic State controls completely cut off. “Daesh have clinics but it’s to treat their fighters, not us,” Hussein said.
Umm Mousa said she, her husband and eight children had slept in their cellar by night to hide from the bombardment and the militants, but that Islamic State was now deliberately avoiding interaction with residents. “They’re suspicious, scared, in case any of the civilian population are informers – they’re keeping their distance a bit now,” she said.
Local Islamic State fighters have been surrendering in recent weeks, the U.S. coalition and residents say.
Outside the mosque, several blindfolded men were brought into an SDF headquarters for questioning.
Islamic State foreign fighters are expected to fight to the death, however. “The foreigners, those are the hard core,” said one escaped resident, Ahmed Faraj. “They won’t give up.”
‘Raqqa was a beautiful city, now it’s completely destroyed’ – Syrians lament cost of U.S. bombing
U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold in Syria, have claimed many civilian lives and forced tens of thousands to flee. RT’s Ruptly agency spoke to the displaced locals who described how the city was leveled in front of their eyes.
The ancient city of Raqqa, which has recently become known as the de-facto capital of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in Syria, is currently under siege by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia backed by the U.S.-led coalition. The besieged city has come under heavy air bombardment while civilians have been trapped in IS-occupied neighborhoods, unable to escape.
The SDF on Wednesday said that “80 per cent” of Raqqa has been retaken from IS and that the operation has moved into the final phase.
At the same time, some SDF forces were seen being transferred away from the battlefield to the northern areas of the Deir ez-Zor province, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. The dislocation comes as the Syrian armed forces backed by Russian Air Force have been pushing out IS terrorists after lifting the siege of the city of Deir ez-Zor.
People in the Al-Mabrookeh refugee camp told Ruptly of the terrors they faced being caught in the middle of the fighting between IS terrorists and the US-backed SDF.
“The coalition launched heavy airstrikes over the residential areas and the nearby towns in the western and northern sectors, especially northward, where they targeted ISIS headquarters, and also locations where civilians were killed,” Ahmad Ibrahim told Ruptly.
“Schools, where students were studying, have been targeted as well. There was nothing there, and they have just been hit and destroyed,” he said.
Entire swathes of the city have been reduced to rubble by the bombing, which the UN estimates kills an average of 27 civilians each day. “The aircraft was shelling, the aircraft of the coalition. Civilians – children and women – were killed. Raqqa is destroyed. It was a beautiful city, and it is totally destroyed. There is no Raqqa, nothing,” said a woman at the camp.
In some cases, militants tried to use civilians as human shields, purposefully attracting collateral damage on the terrified residents.
“During the ISIS siege, we were stopping our cars in front of the checkpoint, and when a member of ISIS heard the aircraft, he would stop the cars and not allow them to move. This was done so more civilians are killed,” said another refugee.
The coalition does not usually acknowledge mass-casualty civilian incidents, although in rare cases it launches investigations into them. Last week, the U.S.-led coalition admitted to carrying out an airstrike in Deir ez-Zor province, which reportedly killed at least 12 Syrian civilians. The coalition promised to launch a probe into the incident, though it did not mention the casualties.
When reached for comment by RT, the coalition said the airstrike did take place, but targeted a terrorist unit in the area.
The circumstances around the airstrike seem to follow a common pattern indicating a glaring lack of intelligence on part of the U.S.-led coalition, Ammar Waqqaf, the director of the Gnosos think tank, told RT. “Since the start of the operations in Mosul we, I think, have lost count on how many times the United States wanted to hit an ISIS target and then suddenly there’s a huge massacre taking place,” Waqqaf said.
Earlier this month, the U.S.-led coalition confirmed another 61 “unintentional civilian deaths” caused by its airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, raising the number of civilians it has acknowledged killing since 2014 to at least 685.
The deadliest incident was a March 14 strike near Mosul, Iraq, in which the coalition attacked an Islamic State position where militants were firing at coalition allies and 27 civilians were killed.
The coalition is currently investigating a total of 455 reports of civilian casualties caused by its artillery or airstrikes, the statement said. Between August 1 and 29, it conducted 1,094 airstrikes in and near the city of Raqqa – up from 645 in July.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in late August that the battle to regain Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor from Islamic State must not be waged at the expense of the lives of civilians. “Given the extremely high number of reports of civilian casualties this month and the intensity of the airstrikes on Raqqa, coupled with ISIL’s use of civilians as human shields, I am deeply concerned that civilians – who should be protected at all times – are paying an unacceptable price and that forces involved in battling ISIL are losing sight of the ultimate goal of this battle,” he said.
* City of Raqqa, Syria lies in ruins following U.S.-Kurdish offensive to retake it from ISIS, news compilation by New Cold War.org, Oct 8, 2017
* Sixteen years of U.S. war in Afghanistan and no end in sight, news compilation by New Cold War.org, Oct 8, 2017
* Underground in Raqqa, by Patrick Cockburn, published in the London Review of Books, Oct 19, 2017
* Raqqa, Syria: A hellhole created by the regime-changers of the West, commentary by Neil Clark, published on RT.com‘s ‘Op Edge’ feature, Sept 2, 2017
* Aleppo & Mosul: A tale of two liberated cities, commentary by Neil Clark, published in RT.com‘s ‘Op Edge’ feature, July 14, 2017
* Moral quicksand: Samantha Power’s temper tantrum over Aleppo at the UN Security Council, by John Wight, CounterPunch, Dec 16, 2016
* Three days after the ‘meltdown of humanity’ in Aleppo, and humanity is still standing, by Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, Dec 16, 2016