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UN calls for pause in fighting to spare civilians in Raqa
August 25, 2017
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GENEVA: The United Nations called on Thursday for a humanitarian pause to allow an estimated 20,000 trapped civilians to escape from the Syrian city of Raqa, and urged the US-led coalition to rein in air strikes that have caused casualties.

Amnesty International said on Thursday that a US-led coalition campaign to oust Daesh from Raqa had killed hundreds of civilians, and those remaining face greater risk as the fight intensifies in its final stages.

“On Raqa, our urging today from the UN side to the members of the humanitarian task force... is that they need to do whatever is possible to make it possible for people to escape Raqa,” Jan Egeland, UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, told reporters in Geneva.

“Boats on the Euphrates must not be attacked, people who come out cannot risk air raids when and where they come out,” he said.

“Now is the time to think of possibilities, pauses or otherwise that might facilitate the escape of civilians, knowing that Daesh fighters are doing their absolute best to use them as human shields,” he said.

Humanitarian pauses were agreed between the warring sides last December to allow the evacuation of civilians from then rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Egeland said.

But he added that the United Nations has no contact with Daesh fighters who have controlled Raqa since 2014.

Egeland, referring to US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said: “There is heavy shelling from the surrounding and encircling SDF forces and there are constant air raids from the coalition. So the civilian casualties are large and there seems to be no real escape for these civilians.” Syrian government forces, backed by the Russian air force and Iran-backed militias, have also been advancing against Daesh south of the River Euphrates that forms Raqa city’s southern edge.

“Inside Raqa city, on both sides, conditions are very bleak and it is very hard to assist in all areas,” Egeland said.

The United Nations is still assessing the outcome of talks held this week in Riyadh between the three Syrian opposition groups — who failed to unite — Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, the UN deputy special envoy for Syria, said.


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