Intensified airstrikes by a US-led coalition on Daesh’s stronghold of Raqqa in Syria are causing a "staggering loss of civilian life", United Nations war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by the US-led coalition, began to attack Raqqa a week ago to take it from the terror group. The SDF, supported by heavy coalition airstrikes, has taken territory to the west, east and north of the city.
"We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced," Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry told the Human Rights Council, Reuters reported.
Pinheiro provided no figure for civilian casualties in Raqqa, where rival forces are racing to capture ground from Daesh. The Syrian Army is also advancing on the desert area west of the city.
Separately, Human Rights Watch expressed concern in a statement about the use of incendiary white phosphorous weapons by the US-led coalition against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, saying it endangered civilians when used in populated areas.
White phosphorus is an incendiary and toxic chemical substance. The munitions filled with the substance create a thick white cloud when they explode. Upon contact with flesh, the substance can maim and kill by burning to the bone.
In its speech to the 47-member forum in Geneva, the US delegation made no reference to Raqqa or the airstrikes.
Pinheiro said that if the international coalition's offensive is successful, it could liberate Raqqa's civilian population, including Izadi women and girls, "whom the group has kept sexually enslaved for almost three years as part of an ongoing and unaddressed genocide".
"The imperative to fight terrorism must not, however, be undertaken at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where ISIL (Daesh) is present," he added.
Syria's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Hussam Edin Aaala denounced violations "committed by the unlawful US-led coalition which targets infrastructure, killing hundreds of civilians including the deaths of 30 civilians in Deir al-Zor."