SDF Says Raqqa to be Part of Decentralized Syria, Hails ‘Historic Victory’

The defeat of ISIS in its Syrian bastion of Raqqa was a “historic” achievement, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that led the months-long battle said Friday, adding the city would be part of decentralized Syria.

“We dedicate this historic victory to all humanity,” said Talal Sello, spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF, at an official ceremony in the city.

“We in the general command of the Syrian Democratic Forces announce that we will hand over the administration of the city of Raqqa and the surrounding countryside to the internal security forces in Raqqa,” Sello added, referring to part of a civil authority set up for the city.

But Sello said the handover would not be immediate, with SDF fighters – who took full control of Raqqa on Tuesday -still combing the city, which lies in ruins and littered with explosives.

“After the end of clearing operations… we will hand over the city to the Raqqa Civil Council,” he said.

The RCC was created some six months ago, and is made up of local officials and tribal leaders who will face the daunting task of rebuilding the city.

“We pledge to protect the borders of the province against all external threats, and we confirm that the future of Raqqa province will be determined by its people within the framework of a decentraliized, federal democratic Syria in which the people of the province will run their own affairs,” the SDF said, according to Reuters.

In a highly symbolic move, the press conference was held inside Raqqa’s sports stadium which ISIS militants had turned into an arms depot and a huge prison where they incarcerated and tortured their opponents.

Standing before a backdrop of shattered buildings, Sello urged the international community and aid organizations to assist with the city’s reconstruction.

Raqqa become the de facto Syrian capital of ISIS’ self-styled “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq after the terrorist group captured it in 2014.

The SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by the US-led coalition, broke into the city in June after months of fighting to surround it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor estimates over 3,000 people, at least a third of them civilians, were killed in the fighting.

Associated Press drone footage from Raqqa showed the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting and thousands of bombs dropped by the US-led coalition.

Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.

The video showed entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.

Syria: The Myth of a Regime Victorious

These are my last days as the UK Special Representative for Syria. As I look back at three short years in this role, much has changed in Syria, and yet much has remained the same.

For sure, this conflict has seen far worse times and atrocities, the vast majority of these perpetrated by an Assad regime that cares not at all for the Syrian people. Syria has seen chemical weapons use, brutal sieges, forced migration and – far from the public eye – arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances. Much of this continues today, under the guise of a just war against terrorists, masking the truth of a total war on Syrians.

Today, there is much talk and lazy analysis of Assad and his backers having ‘won the war’, through a combination of military advances, under cover of heavy air bombardment, and a series of many hundreds of so-called ‘reconciliation deals’ with besieged communities, faced with the choice of surrender or starvation and bombing.

The propaganda machine screams reconciliation, while the military machine puts community leaders and civil society activists on green buses headed towards a dangerous and uncertain fate.

For all the complexity this war presents, I am confident still in three facts.

First, there is no such thing as a ‘win.’ There never will be a ‘military solution’ to this conflict. Assad’s forces stretch ever thinner and depend ever more on foreign militias and air power to prop them up. Behind the advancing front line, Syrian Arab Army and militias leave behind them a fractured landscape intimidated by local warlords seeking personal gain above all.

Of course it can be argued that Assad doesn’t care, so long as he keeps a chunk of ‘useful Syria’ and Syria’s seat remains warm at the UN thanks to Russian protection. The regime’s mission, after all, has always been to survive and dominate the country, not bring it peace.

But this should give us no comfort. The toll that the regime and its backers have exacted is staggering: well over 400,000 dead; over 13 million in need; over half the pre-war population displaced within Syria or forced to flee; an economy shrunk by over 60%; a people traumatised; a generation of kids with no education or hope.

Assad’s regime bears overwhelming responsibility for the suffering of the Syrian people, fuelled extremism and terrorism, and created the space for ISIS. The United Nations has before now called attention to the ‘devastation of the Syrian mosaic’ of the country’s diverse communities. Assad and his regime are largely responsible for this, while claiming to defend it.

This brings me to my second point: Syria can only find true peace with transition away from Assad to a government that can protect the rights of all Syrians, unite the country and end the conflict. As Ibrahim al-Assil has written so eloquently in the Washington Post only days ago, Syria cannot be stabilised under Assad’s leadership: Syria’s institutions are broken and near destroyed; those in charge of them think only of enriching themselves; a regime which has perfected state sponsorship of terrorism and so-called ‘weaponisation’ of refugees will only go on to do so again.

Finally, the hatred of the regime and desire for a better future that propelled millions of Syrians into the streets in 2011 perseveres to this day – young Syrians from all walks of life tell me it is only a matter of time before the revolution will come again.

I am often challenged on my country’s focus on Assad’s wrongs. Why do we not shine a light on abuses by others?

First, I do not presume to ignore any and all abuses conducted in the name of this war. But second, Assad’s self-described ‘government’ has the primary responsibility to protect its population. And third, it is Assad’s war machine that has killed, maimed or forced to flee the vast majority of Syrian victims of this conflict.

My third fact concerns what’s happening now: de-escalation. The international community has a moral obligation to reduce and calm violence across the country.

Critics will say that de-escalation is a step by the international community towards normalisation with the regime, or, indeed, the exact opposite: that calming different parts of Syria in different ways is a step towards breaking up the country or at least freezing the conflict in perpetuity.

Yet others will question whether Western countries can meaningfully use reconstruction as leverage to force transition. After all, Assad – not the Russians – has made clear that he won’t let his enemies ‘accomplish through politics what they failed to accomplish on the battlefield and through terrorism’.

The regime, it is argued, will survive on what limited help it can gain from something generally described as the East. Assad, then, will wait us out until we give in.

These are hard challenges to contemplate, but contemplate them we must. It means very clearly that any work on de-escalation has to preserve the Syrian identity of de-escalated areas. And it means that the West needs to hold firm to the position that it will only help with Syria’s reconstruction when comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition is ‘firmly under way’.

These last words are critical: reconstruction at transition, and not before. To engage early is to bet that we can reform Syria from within, as Assad and his regime remain in power. That is naive and ignores the regime’s singular focus on itself, rather than on Syria and Syrians.

This leads me to a fourth fact where, unlike the previous three, I am not confident on how it plays out: that transition must proceed and that Syrians will decide how this happens.

The easy and lazy way to look at this is that Syrians will decide transition, and leave it there. After all, there is the Geneva Communiqué and UNSCR2254. Both are clear enough.

The harder way to look at this is to recognise first that negotiations in Geneva have not made progress in 18 months, notwithstanding the sustained and patient work by UN Special Envoy de Mistura. For all the criticisms made of the Opposition, again it is the regime that bears overwhelming responsibility; it has never shown it is prepared to negotiate, but rather has played for time while attacking Syrians back home.

What to do about this is no clearer to me than when these Geneva talks started in January 2016. I can only recall that if the Geneva talks had not been invented, they would have to be, that there are a number of firm principles which de Mistura has already reached, and that the onus for advancing a peace process lies firmly with those who back Assad to win, even if that victory looks pyrrhic. Meanwhile, we should ensure that Geneva understands and reflects the views of millions of Syrians out there without a real voice.

One thing that is clear is that Syrians must see accountability for human rights violations and abuses conducted throughout this war, again if there is to be enduring peace.

It pains me that the Geneva process has been unable to make progress on the critical issue of detainees and the disappeared. The pressing challenge is to discover where people are and ensure their welfare and that they are released. The longer-term task is to ensure accountability for the suffering inflicted on them.

Moving to peace — and a just peace at that — in Syria matters, for Syria, for the region, and for the world. Absent movement forward, Syria’s tragedy will continue, a stain on the world’s conscience.

As I prepare to move on, let me pay tribute to the many Syrians that I have had the privilege to work and partner with in their quest for peace. Their patience, resilience and courage humble me.

Syrians are never overwhelmed by the challenges before them, nor daunted. It has been my pleasure to work with my team across the region to support Syrians in their communities, doing what we can, with what we have.


*UK Special Representative for Syria*
*Exclusive Opinion for Asharq Al-Awsat*

Putin Outlines his Vision for Syria Solution

Moscow, Raqqa- Russian President Vladimir Putin uncovered on Thursday his vision regarding a political solution in Syria, proposing a congress bringing together representatives of all ethnic groups in Syria following the establishment of de-escalation zones.

Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club held in Sochi Thursday, Putin said: “There is an initiative to set up a congress of the Syrian peoples, involving all the ethnic and religious groups, as well as the government and opposition.”

“If this is done with the support of the guarantor countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it would mark the next step on the way to finding a political solution and drawing up a new constitution, but it is too early to talk about that,” the president added.

Putin also expressed concern that the setup of de-escalation zones may lead to Syria’s division, hoping that cooperation between all forces in the country would prevent it.

The Russian president said he was also concerned of the complicated dialogue between the Syrian regime and opposition.

“There are grounds to expect, and I’d be cautious, that we will soon finish off the terrorists in Syria, but this is not the reason yet to be glad and think that they have been eliminated once and for all,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) retained on Thursday full control over the city of Raqqa.

The Women’s Protection Units, which is affiliated to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), organized on Thursday a military parade in Raqqa’s Al-Naim Square, where they raised a portrait of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by Turkey.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is getting prepared to be handed over to a civilian authority.

Separately, the Israeli Army shelled on Thursday Syrian regime positions in Quneitra in the Golan Heights.

Iran Announces Strengthening Military Cooperation with Damascus

Damascus, London – Iran’s Chief of Staff for Iran’s Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri announced drawing a new policy to boost military cooperation between his country and the Syrian regime.

In a joint press conference held in Damascus on Wednesday with his Syrian counterpart Ali Ayoub, Bagheri said: “I am in the Syrian capital to coordinate and cooperate in order to fight our common enemies — whether they are the Zionists or the terrorists. We discussed ways to strengthen relations in the future and outlined the basic principles of this cooperation.”

Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel, Bagheri stressed, vowing that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies.

Bagheri added that Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani “has made a serious mistake after carrying out the referendum in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, as he took steps to achieve an imaginary independence that may drag the region to future confrontations.”

For his part, Lt. Gen. Ayoub said: “We held plenary talks which included a comprehensive assessment of all the current developments, and we discussed in details the relations binding our armies and the mutual desire to enhance these relations.”

He affirmed that the Takfiri terrorist project “will end and the war against terrorism will continue till eliminating it completely and restoring security and stability to all the territories of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Ayoub accused the United States of trying to impede the progress of the army in its operations to combat terrorism through groups that have been forced to obey terrorist organizations such as ISIS and others to attack the Syrian regime army.

He also considered the entry of Turkish forces into Idlib violates what was agreed upon in Astana, and “we have all the rights to respond to this attack,” Ayoub said.

Foreign ISIS Fighters Captured, Turned over to Western Countries in Raqqa

Raqqa- Syria’s Kurdish-Arab rebels fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Wednesday initiating combing operations to clear Raqqa from ISIS members.

A number of foreign militants captured in the former ISIS stronghold have already been handed to Western countries, said SDF sources.

Despite the US-backed SDF claiming full control over Raqqa, the fate of dozens of foreign ISIS fighters who were known to be located in the area remains unknown.

The British-based Observatory for Human Rights says that no one has spotted foreign fighters in particular, but apprehended French and Belgian militants were turned in to intelligence forces of their respective countries.  

As battles continue to drag around Syrian terrain, the latest loss suffered by regime forces was the death of Brigadier General Issam Zahreddine in Deir Ezzor.

The Republican Guard’s Zahreddine, who also commanded regime operations in Deir Ezzor, was killed in a mine explosion in the Hawija-Sakr area inside the city, according to Syrian media.

Zahreddine played a role in the progress made by the Syrian pro-regime army forces in Deir Ezzor city and the surrounding areas.

Zahreddine led army operations against the armed opposition in Homs and Aleppo, before moving to the eastern region to fight ISIS.

On the other hand, the regime launched raids against Deir Ezzor’s eastern oil field, racing SDF units for control over oil and gas fields in eastern Syria.

More so, the US is expected to lead efforts in clearing out and restoring basic public services in Raqqa after its liberation. SDF search teams have at the same time announced combing the city for “sleeper cells” hiding among civilians.

“We will assist and take, essentially, the lead in bringing back the water, electricity and all of that,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing. “But eventually the governance of the country of Syria is something that I think all nations remain very interested in.”

“The United States and our allies have prepared for next steps and will continue to work with partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need and support the stabilization efforts in Raqqa and other liberated areas,” Nauert said.

Additionally, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said preparations were underway for a formal declaration of the city’s liberation.

The SDF said Tuesday that military operations in Raqqa have ended and that their troops have taken full control of the city. The US-led coalition cautioned that the clearing operations would continue, saying some 100 militants may still be hiding in the city. 

Tears, Joy & Devastation Fill Raqqa’s Post-ISIS Air

SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed

Raqqa- Four months ago, Syria’s Raqqa found itself drenched in bloodshed as fierce and violent battles ripped through the former ISIS stronghold. When casually strolling down liberated areas, it becomes all the more evident how destructive the battles were.

Homes wrecked to the ground, debris, and a demolished infrastructure all spell out a devastating new reality left behind by ISIS.

For the few lucky neighborhoods which survived bombardment and stray bullets, the war still left its mark through shattered windows and broken doors taken down by blast waves.

Despite the destruction, joy prevailed as citizens and Syrian Democratic Forces celebrated smashing victory against ISIS on the liberated streets of Raqqa.

SDF fighters gathered at Raqqa’s center with a celebratory spirit, forming traditional dance rings, raising SDF flags and chanting slogans about victory and freedom.

Triumphant convoys and demonstrators paraded around Raqqa, as the former ISIS bastion is now under full control of the US-backed Syrian rebels.

Raqqa’s infamous “Al-Naim” square, dubbed ISIS’ square of hell, now is home to fluttering SDF flags waving in the near completion of military operations.

“Today we stand at Al-Naim square, which was once dubbed the circle of hell as it served as an arena for brutal executions carried out against anyone who opposed ISIS and the rule of its self-proclaimed caliphate,” Leader and Spokeswoman for the SDF “Euphrates Wrath” (Ghadab Al-Furrat) military campaign Rogada Flatt told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The capture of Al-Naim followed fighting since Sunday near the square, the Arab-Kurdish alliance said in a statement.

“We are left with only a few points, and combing operations are underway to eliminate the sleeper cells and cleanse the city of mines,” asserted Flatt on the continued liberation of Raqqa, the caliphate’s former ‘capital’.

“At least 22 ISIS members surrendered to our forces and were sent to detention centers for investigation, after which they will be referred to the adequate courts,” said SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed.

Reviewing battles fought, Ahmed said that “a few foreign militiamen kept fighting until the last minute.”

“Our forces have started mop-up and sweeping operations considering the probability of ISIS cells hiding in some locations,” said Ahmed. “Mines planted by the cells need to be defused to make sure that the entire city has been cleared,” she added.

Since June, Raqqa residents have been held hostage by ISIS terrorists.

As the terror group lost more and more territory, it resorted to using these civilians as human shields.

Surviving civilians were trapped in hellfire as SDF troops carried out operations, US-led coalition staged airstrikes, and ISIS snipers infested the streets and prevented people from escaping.

Haitham al-Zaher, 48, was the last civilian to escape ISIS captivity.

Zaher managed to escape with his wife and three daughters.

“We could not escape until clashes were close to us— until then, my wife and I decided alongside 7 other families, to take shelter in an abandoned cellar, where we stayed 3 days in hiding, food and water were scarce and almost ran out,” said Zaher.

“We lived through very difficult moments, where we heard the thuds of heavy shelling and cracking of clashes,” he added.

Malika al-Zaher, aged 38, said that during September her family was moved 14 times to different locations.

“As the fighting progressed, ISIS ordered us to change the place, taking us as human shields,” said Zaher’s wife.

Today, Syrians in Raqqa sent out a cry for help to conduct extensive investigations in order to reveal the fate ISIS-held detainees and to restore the city once again to its people.

Syrian Democratic Forces: US-Backed Kurdish-Arab Alliance

Raqqa

London – Kurdish fighters represent the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which seized on Tuesday control of the city of Raqqa from the ISIS terrorist group after a four-month offensive.

Comprised of Arab and Kurdish fighters, the SDF was formed in October 2015 in order to confront the extremist organization.

Backed by the US, it is considered the international coalition’s key ally in its war against ISIS. Washington has helped the SDF with airstrikes, weapons and expertise, which bolstered its ability to fight the extremists.

According to AFP, the alliance between the SDF and US has sparked major tensions with Ankara, which has not hesitated in the past in targeting the forces.

However, despite the various war fronts, all warring parties share ISIS as their common enemy.

The SDF was formed after US-backed Kurdish units achieved several victories against the extremists, most notably expelling them from the city of Kobane (Ain Arab) and Tal Abyad in 2015.

The advance has however created tensions with opposition factions that have accused the Kurds of forced displacement against Arab residents. It also raised fears in Ankara that the Kurds would seek autonomous rule in territories along the Turkish border.

To counter these tensions, the SDF was formed to include 30,000 fighters, among them 5,000 Arabs. Kurds however assume the command of the forces.

After the US-led coalition launched its first air strikes against ISIS in Syria in September 2014, Washington struggled to find a reliable partner on the ground.

A much-touted $500-million program to build a rebel army to fight ISIS collapsed. The SDF was the next best choice, especially after the Kurds proved to be fierce fighters.

After the SDF was formed, the White House announced the first sustained deployment of US special forces to Syria, reversing a longstanding refusal to put boots on the ground.

Around 50 special operations personnel were deployed in northern Syria, and the number has now grown to around 500 US troops. Senior US commanders and Washington’s envoy to the coalition Brett McGurk have met top SDF chiefs during visits to northern Syria.

Washington said in June it would supply weapons directly to the People’s Protection Units, the main Kurdish backbone of the SDF, despite objections from ally Turkey.

In November 2016, the SDF announced its operation “Wrath of the Euphrates” aimed at ousting ISIS from Raqqa province, including the group’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.

In the months that followed, the alliance gradually closed in on the city, first sweeping into territory to the north before closing in from the east and west.

In early June, SDF forces entered Raqqa for the first time, penetrating its Old City a month later after airstrikes by the US-led coalition smashed two holes in the ramparts.

By late September, SDF forces had taken control of 90 percent of the city, cornering ISIS fighters in Raqqa’s stadium, a few surrounding buildings and a major hospital.

On October 17, SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP the US-backed fighters finally had “taken full control of Raqqa” from ISIS.

Raqqa: From Ancient Capital to ISIS Stronghold

Raqqa

London – Raqqa was liberated on Tuesday from the grasp of the ISIS terrorist group that had turned the ancient city into its stronghold and a symbol of its atrocities.

The city has been inhabited for hundreds of years, and its peak, it enjoyed a golden age under the early Islamic empire of the Abbasids.

In 722, Caliph al-Mansour ordered the construction of the city of al-Rafiqa, which lies near Raqqa. The two cities eventually were merged into one.

In 796, the powerful caliph Haroun al-Rashid transferred his capital there from Baghdad because of its strategic location at a crossroads between Byzantium, Damascus and Iraq. It sits 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the Turkish border and about halfway between Syria’s second city Aleppo and the Iraqi frontier.

He ordered major works and Raqqa was soon dotted with grand palaces and mosques.

Although the caliph’s court returned to Baghdad in 809, Raqqa remained a major administrative center for the western part of the empire.

But in 1258, the city was largely destroyed by the Mongol invasion.

Before the Syrian civil war, Raqqa prospered from agriculture in the fertile valley and benefited from nearby hydroelectric dams generating power for much of the country.

On March 4, 2013, two years after Syria’s war broke out, Raqqa was the first provincial capital to fall to rebels. The seized control of the military intelligence headquarters, one of the most notorious regime detention centers in the entire province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They also destroyed a statue of late leader Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current regime head, Bashar.

Clashes however soon erupted in 2014 between ISIS and opposition fighters, including the al-Nusra Front. They culminated in ISIS seizing complete control of Raqqa in January of that same year.

In June 2014, ISIS declared its infamous “caliphate” across swathes of Syria and Iraq.

In August 2014, ISIS enjoyed complete control of Raqqa province after seized the Tabaqa airport from the regime. It then went on to impose its laws in Raqqa through intimidation and terror. It resorted to mass executions, beheadings, rape, ethnic cleansing and stoning to impose its extremist ideology on others.

Raqqa has long been coveted by multiple parties to the Syrian conflict, including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the US-led coalition set up in 2014 to tackle IS.

On November 5, 2016, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a major offensive dubbed “Wrath of the Euphrates” to seize the city.

As the SDF closed in on the city, thousands of Raqa residents were smuggled out to territory captured by the US-backed force.

After taking swathes of the surrounding province, including the key town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam, the SDF sealed off the approaches to Raqqa from the north, east and west.

In early July, SDF forces penetrated the heavily fortified heart of the city for the first time but continued to face tough resistance from the extremists.

On September 1, the SDF successfully captured the entire historic district, bringing it closer than ever to ISIS’ bastion’s well-defended and densely populated heart.

By late September, they had taken control of 90 percent of the city, cornering the extremists in Raqqa’s stadium, a few surrounding buildings and a major hospital.

On October 17, an SDF spokesman told AFP that the group’s fighters had “taken full control of Raqqa” from ISIS.

ISIS Loses Its Syria ‘Capital’

SDF fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa

Beirut, Raqqa- ISIS lost on Monday its de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they completely control the city, following four months of fierce battles that ended with the withdrawal of some of the terrorists’ militants in an unclear deal that failed to detail the destination of those fighters.

“Everything is finished in Raqqa, our forces have taken full control of Raqqa,” SDF spokesperson Talal Silo told AFP on Tuesday.

He added that “the military operations in Raqqa have finished, but clearing operations are now underway to uncover any sleeper cells there might be and remove mines.”

Silo said an official statement declaring victory in the city would be made soon.

But, despite assertions from the SDF forces that the military operation has ended in Raqqa, the US military said around 100 ISIS fighters were still left in the city.

The Coalition’s spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said the battle was “near its end,” confirming that 90% of the city had been cleared.

However, he failed to specify the fate of foreign militants.

On Sunday, the SDF launched their last attack on Raqqa after a convoy of ISIS armed militants left the city following a deal negotiated by local officials and tribesmen.

An estimated 275 Syrian ISIS fighters were evacuated from Raqqa to an undisclosed location, leaving behind foreign ISIS jihadists.

The US-led Coalition had rejected that foreign combatants leave the city with the Syrians as part of the deal.

Abu Mohammad al-Raqqawi, an activist in the Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “since the first day of the deal’s implementation, foreign fighters were leaving Raqqa in batches as part of the convoys that included Syrians.”

He said that the majority of those fighters went to Deir Ezzor, adding that some of the foreign jihadists were carrying fake Syrian identity cards.

Raqqawi said that between 130 and 150 out of the 1,300 foreign fighters who were inside the city have already surrendered.

He added that many of them were able of fleeing the city after hiding among civilians.

Save the Children: Liberation of Raqqa Does not Signal End of Humanitarian Crisis

Raqqa

Beirut – The liberation of the Syrian city of Raqqa from the ISIS terrorist group does not mean the end of humanitarian suffering in the region, warned Save the Children on Tuesday.

It instead said that the situation is in fact escalating.

“The military offensive in Raqqa may be coming to an end, but the humanitarian crisis is greater than ever,” the aid group’s Syria director Sonia Khush said in a statement.

The Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Tuesday that the city has been liberated from ISIS after a four-month military campaign.

Save the Children warned that “some 270,000 people who have fled the Raqqa fighting are still in critical need of aid, and camps are bursting at the seams.”

It said that most Raqqa families had no homes to go back to and that thousands of civilians were still being displaced in the eastern Deir al-Zour province, where fighting was still raging.

The aid group said that the reconstruction effort would require massive investment and that funding would also be needed to bring children back to school.

“Many are plagued by nightmares from witnessing horrific violence and will need extensive psychological support,” the aid group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights meanwhile announced that 3,250 people, including some 1,130 civilians, were killed in the campaign to liberate Raqqa that began in June.

Director of the rights group, Rami Abdul Rahman, stressed that there are hundreds of people missing and they are likely stuck under the rubble in the city that has witnessed heavy destruction in the months-long offensive.