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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

US-led coalition strikes kill more than 40 civilians in Raqqa

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday’s strikes brought the number of civilians killed by the US-led coalition since August 14 to at least 167

Smoke rises after an air strike during fighting between members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIL in Raqqa, Syria on August 20, 2017. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
Smoke rises after an air strike during fighting between members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIL in Raqqa, Syria on August 20, 2017. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

US airstrikes on the Syrian city Raqqa killed at least 42 civilians on Sunday and Monday, according to monitoring groups following the coalition’s offensive against ISIL.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday’s strikes brought the number of civilians killed by the US-led coalition since August 14 to at least 167, including 59 children.

The group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said Sunday’s airstrikes hit an apartment building in the city’s Al Bedoo neighbourhood and that the toll in that single strike alone was as high as 40 deaths, with bodies remaining under the rubble.

The US-led coalition reported that on Sunday the coalition carried out 21 strikes “near Raqqa” that resulted in the destruction of 22 ISIL “fighting positions” and said that the claims civilians were killed would be investigated.

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“The Coalition takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and assesses all credible allegations of possible civilian casualties. However, the recent allegations by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights lack specificity and detail making it very difficult to properly assess,” a spokesperson for US Central Command said on Tuesday.

Civilian casualties have also been an issue for the US-led coalition in Iraq. The monitoring group Airwars said it had received claims that as many as 8,600 civilians had been killed Mosul since the campaign to drive ISIL from that city began nearly a year ago. The group says it has already confirmed at least 1,000 civilian deaths in Mosul as a result of the US-led coalition’s bombing, and in recent months there has been a 400 per cent increase in claims of civilian casualties in the fight against ISIL that began in 2014.

“It starts in Mach of 2017 – civilian casualty numbers have more than doubled under Trump,” said Chris Woods, the lead researcher at Airwars. “There are several reasons for that – the stage of the war that we’re in, and that Raqqa and Mosul were going on simultaneously.”

“We also feel like something else is going on – the protections for civilians on the battlefield have been loosened by the US,” Mr Woods said. “We are starting to see a number of mass casualty events reported out of Raqqa.”

In the most recent monthly civilian casualty report released by US Central Command on August 4, the military admitted to 624 “likely” civilian casualties since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve more than three years ago. Inherent resolve is the name the US military has given to the ongoing operation against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed militia that began fighting inside the city of Raqqa in June with the support of US airstrikes and artillery, could not be reached for comment.

The United Nations estimates that somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 civilians remain trapped in Raqqa in increasingly desperate conditions.

Amnesty International plans to release a report on Thursday detailing the dangers faced by civilians as the fighting has intensified and documenting hundreds of civilian casualties.

“Things will only get more dangerous as the battle reaches its final stages in the city centre,” said Donatella Rivera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, who led the on-the-ground investigation. “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.”

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