Syrian Civilians Caught Between Counter-IS Airstrikes and Islamic State Abuse

The U.N.’s top human rights official said civilians are paying a heavy price as airstrikes in Syria escalate, particularly in Islamic State-controlled areas. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called on the air forces operating in the country to do more to minimize civilian casualties. 

The situation for Syrian civilians is difficult throughout the country, but it is particularly so in areas held by Islamic State in the northeastern governorates of al-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor.

Battered from both sides

The high commissioner’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, said civilians in those areas are being battered by escalating airstrikes from Syrian, Russian and U.S. coalition forces. At the same time, he says the same civilians are suffering indiscriminate shelling and summary executions by IS militants, whom he referred to by the acronym ISIL.

“Because of the ISIL presence, we fear civilians are in an increasingly dangerous situation as the airstrikes and ground conflict intensify, possibly resulting in many more casualties, as well as retaliatory assaults by ISIL against densely populated civilian areas,” Colville said. 

“And, unfortunately, we think very scant attention is really being paid by the outside world to this situation and the appalling predicament of the civilians trapped in these areas,” he added.

Airstrikes, then ISIL

On May 14, Colville noted, airstrikes in a rural village of eastern al-Raqqa Governorate killed 23 farm workers, 17 of them women. The following day, he said, airstrikes on two residential areas in an IS-controlled city in eastern Deir-ez-Zor reportedly killed at least 59 men, women and children and wounded 70 others.

“And the day after that,” Colville said, “ISIL fighters are said to have cut the throats of eight men at the sites of the airstrikes, after accusing them of providing coordinates for the strikes.”

Al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, is urging all air forces operating in Syria to take much greater care to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians.

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