SDF militants, supported by the US-led coalition, launched the offensive in Raqqa province in November last year. In June, the fighting progressed towards the Islamic State-besieged city, the de facto capital of the self-proclaimed terrorist caliphate.
According to UN estimates made public Wednesday, around 25,000 civilians are still trapped in Raqqa, and are being slaughtered in the crossfire between the sides in the ongoing battle. The UN estimates that some 27 civilians are killed in Raqqa daily.
However and despite the presence of the around 1,000-strong ISIS (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) force in the city, it is the US-led bombing campaign which is mostly responsible for the civilian death toll there, local media activist Musa al Khalafa told RT.
“What is happening now in Raqqa is destruction not liberation at all,” Khalafa noted. “More than 2,000 people have been killed as results of the US led coalition bombing and the SDF shelling of civilians in Raqqa.”
While the numbers are hard to verify, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his office had managed to confirm reports of 151 civilian deaths from just six aerial or ground operations during August alone.
“Given the extremely high number of reports of civilian casualties this month and the intensity of the air strikes 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,” Zeid said in a statement Thursday.
Describing the 84 days of SDF’s liberation campaign of Raqqa nothing short of a “siege,” Khalafa said that “is imposed only on civilians, women, children, old and sick people,” who are already suffering from ISIS.
The activist noted that the US-led jets are indiscriminately bombing civilians and refugees, sometimes striking groups of 30 to 50 people in hideouts, wrongly assessing that civilians there are legitimate ISIS targets.
Khalafa said that many families were killed near the Euphrates river while they were just getting some water. Others perished when the US-led coalition bombed bridges which served as escape routes.
“This actually prevented civilians from leaving the city not ISIL, as ISIL fighters can depart and leave the city any time – even from the territories controlled by SDF and the coalition,” the activist told RT.
“You can’t call this kind of actions liberation,” Khalafa underlined. “The city lacks electricity, running water, there is a shortage of food, like bread. They’ve destroyed bakeries. National hospital and Al-Salam hospital which served civilians in Raqqa have been attacked and destroyed completely by the US-led coalition… there are two or three operating hospitals for ISIL only.”
Between August 1 and 29, the coalition conducted 1,094 airstrikes on and near Raqqa city – up from 645 last month, the UN said Thursday citing coalition figures. In July, across Syria, a total of 885 airstrikes were conducted by the coalition.
The SDF siege on the ground against ISIS positions in the city, the activist revealed, is supported by French, British and US forces. Yet, according to Khalfa’s informed assessment, the ground troops and the air power have amounted to negligible, if any advances on the city.
“The US led coalition didn’t intend to attack ISIL members or their gatherings places, as ISIL places are well-known to the public,” the activist said. “The US jets are destroying the buildings while SDF forces progress by land… but at night ISIL uses suicide vehicles to regain control of the same territories previously controlled by SDF.”
“When they talk about direct confrontation with ISIS – they are lying, there are no armed confrontations at all,” the activist told RT.