Raqqa: Air raids by US coalition warplanes have intensified in recent days as Kurdish and Arab militias seek to drive surrounded Daesh terrorists 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 Daesh and the US-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 neighbour Abd Hussain 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 Daesh 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. I even saw them kill a two-year-old child,” Umm Mousa, 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.
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.”
All those who escaped on Thursday came from a district near the stadium.
They said many buildings had been hit as Daesh terrorists fired from them.
“Each building has dozens of civilians in it, so of course many have died,” said Hussain. Residents described miserable living conditions and lack of food, water and medical aid with the remaining areas Daesh controls completely cut off.
“Daesh have clinics but it’s to treat their fighters, not us,” Hussain said.
Umm Mousa said she, her husband and eight children had slept in their cellar by night to hide from the bombardment and the terrorists, but that Daesh 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.
Talks on Raqqa civilian exit halted
Talks on securing safe passage for civilians from the last Daesh-held neighbourhoods of Syria’s Raqqa have stopped, a city official close to the discussions told AFP on Friday.
City officials and tribal leaders had been working this week to negotiate the safe exit of people trapped inside militant-held areas.
The source said that some civilians had been safely brought out during a lull in fighting in recent days, but that negotiations faltered over the issue of letting Daesh terrorists leave and clashes had resumed.
“The negotiations stopped because we completely reject the idea that their security members leave the city without consequences,” the official said, without specifying whether the talks might resume.