Civilians in Syria must be spared from anti-ISIS airstrikes: UN rights chief

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Displaced civilians from Kobane watch U.S. warplanes hitting locations of the Islamic State's militants in the embattled city at the Syrian-Turkish border. File photo

Geneva (UN) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday urged the air forces of the Government and other States fighting ISIS in Syria to take much greater care to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians.

“The rising toll of civilian deaths and injuries already caused by airstrikes in Deir ez-Zor and Al-Raqqa suggests that insufficient precautions may have been taken in the attacks,” Mr Zeid said in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Just because ISIS holds an area does not mean less care can be taken. Civilians should always be protected, whether they are in areas controlled by ISIS or by any other party,” he added.

Places such as the border city of Albo Kamal – where retreating ISIS fighters and their families are mixed in with some 100,000 people, including displaced Syrians and Iraqis – are of particular concern, the UN rights chief said.

The same civilians who are suffering indiscriminate shelling and summary executions by ISIS, are also falling victim to the escalating airstrikes, particularly in the northeastern governorates of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, according to numerous credible reports of such incidents, he said, citing an airstrike of 14 May that reportedly killed 23 farm workers, including 17 women, in a rural village of eastern Al-Raqqa Governorate.

Airstrikes on two residential areas of the ISIS-controlled city of Albo Kamal in eastern Deir ez-Zor Governorate on 15 May reportedly killed at least 59 civilians, including 16 children and 12 women and injured another 70.

The day after that, ISIS 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. On 18 May, an ISIS attack on the Government-controlled village of Aqareb in rural eastern Hama Governorate allegedly resulted in the deaths of 36 civilians including women and children.

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