Sat, Apr 27, 2019 - Page 6 News List

US-led coalition killed 1,600 civilians: groups

AP, BEIRUT

A US-led coalition killed more than 1,600 civilians in the northern Syria city of Raqqa during months of bombardment that liberated it from the Islamic State group, hundreds more than the number the coalition has claimed over the entire four-year campaign against the extremists, Amnesty International and a London-based watchdog group said on Thursday.

Amnesty and Airwars said that the toll came after the “most comprehensive investigation into civilian deaths in a modern conflict.”

The US-led coalition last month said that 1,257 civilians were killed in airstrikes against the Islamic State over four years in Syria and Iraq.

“We continue to employ thorough and deliberate targeting and strike processes to minimize the impact of our operations on civilian populations and infrastructure,” the US-led coalition said.

Raqqa was the de facto capital of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, which once encompassed one-third each of Syria and Iraq.

Last month, the Islamic State lost the last area it controlled in eastern Syria, marking the end of the so-called caliphate.

US-backed Syrian fighters captured Raqqa in October 2017 after a four-month campaign.

The UN has estimated that more than 10,000 buildings were destroyed, or 80 percent of the city.

“Coalition forces razed Raqqa, but they cannot erase the truth. Amnesty International and Airwars call upon the coalition forces to end their denial about the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction caused by their offensive in Raqqa,” the two groups said in a joint statement.

In June last year, an Amnesty International report said that hundreds of civilians were killed in Raqqa, while Airwars said that it has evidence of 1,400 fatalities.

The statement said that Amnesty International’s “Strike Trackers” project also identified when each of the more than 11,000 destroyed buildings in Raqqa was hit.

More than 3,000 digital activists in 124 countries took part, analyzing a total of more than 2 million satellite image frames, it said.

“The coalition needs to fully investigate what went wrong at Raqqa and learn from those lessons, to prevent inflicting such tremendous suffering on civilians caught in future military operations,” Airwars director Chris Woods said.

Separately, Syrian Minister of Transportation Ali Hammoud said that the country would sign a contract with a Russian company to run and expand the port of Tartous on the Mediterranean.

Hammoud said in remarks published by the pro-government al-Watan daily on Thursday that Russia’s Stroytransgaz would run the port for 49 years.

The Russian company would expand the port and pump more than US$500 million in the project, he said, adding that it has been agreed with the company to keep all Syrian workers in the port.

Russia has been a main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Moscow tipped the balance of power in favor of government forces after joining the Syrian civil war in 2015.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov last weekend met with al-Assad in Damascus and said in comments carried by Russian news agencies that he was expecting the contract to be signed this week.

The Russian lease of the port would boost bilateral trade and benefit the Syrian economy, Borisov said.

Stroytransgaz is controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s childhood friend Gennady Timchenko.

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