UN refugee agency seeks access to civilians in Syria's Raqqa

Published 13.06.2017 14:54
Updated 13.06.2017 14:55

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) called Tuesday for better access to northern Syria's Raqqa province, where U.S.-backed forces are trying to drive the Daesh terrorist group out of its self-styled capital, saying close to half a million people are in need of assistance.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attacked the provincial capital, also called Raqqa, a week ago, hoping to drive the terrorists out with the aid of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

Clearing operations around the city have been underway for months, and the UNHCR says 100,000 people were displaced in May alone.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the barriers to movement have made aid operations "costly and complex."

He said all land routes to the region have been blocked by other parties to Syria's civil war that are hostile to the U.S.-backed force, forcing the aid agency to rely on airlifts.

"Resources are also badly needed," said Mahecic. "Funding is not keeping up with needs on the ground.

The U.N. has managed to raise only $29 million of the $153 million it budgeted to meet humanitarian needs in Raqqa province.

Human Rights Watch has meanwhile called on the U.S.-led coalition to make protection of civilians a priority in the campaign to recapture Raqqa.

"We have already documented a series of rights abuses in the context of anti-Daesh operations," said Lama Fakih, the deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group said in a statement that the United States and allied ground forces must respect the human rights of everyone caught up in the battle.

It also urged the U.S. to investigate airstrikes that have allegedly targeted civilians, respect detainee rights, provide safe passage for the displaced and intensify efforts to clear land mines. And it sought guarantees against enlisting child soldiers into the ranks of U.S. partner forces.

The U.S. is providing ground and air support to the Kurdish-led SDF in the battle for Raqqa, which has since 2014 been the Daesh's main base in Syria.

The SDF's leading faction is the People's Protection Units (YPG), which is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey considers the PYD and the YPG, to be Syrian affiliates of the PKK, a proscribed terrorist organization according to the U.S., Turkey and the EU.

U.S. support for the SDF has caused tension the relationship between Washington and Ankara, as the YPG forms the backbone of SDF forces. The U.S. says that supporting the SDF is the only option for defeating the Daesh terrorist group; while Turkey says an alternative would be to work with local Arab tribes backed by countries in the region instead of supporting a terrorist group.

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