Death toll rises after Syrian regime strikes on Raqqa

Death toll rises after Syrian regime strikes on Raqqa
3 min read
26 November, 2014
As many as 95 people have been killed as the Syrian airforce unleashes its deadliest airstrikes against the city of Raqqa since it fell to the Islamic State group.
The aftermath from the airstrikes in Raqqa [Getty]

At least 52 of the dead were civilians, reported the London-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

The deaths came in a string of Syrian regime airstrikes on the Islamic State group's self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.

"Some of the strikes hit near to Islamic State posts," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Observatory.

     The first strike came, residents rushed to rescue the wounded, and then the second raid took place.
- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

The airstrikes were the deadliest by President Bashar al-Assad's air force against Raqqa since the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) seized control of the city last year.

Amateur video footage distributed by activists in the city purported to show several bloodied bodies laid out on a street near an apparent bombing site, as an ambulance rushed to the scene.

Aid workers in red overalls bearing the Red Crescent symbol could be seen placing the corpses into white body bags.

Activists from the city meanwhile denounced the raids as a "massacre".

"The first strike came, residents rushed to rescue the wounded, and then the second raid took place," said Abdel Rahman, whose group relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria for its information.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem will meet Russia's President Vladimir Putin today in the Black Sea retreat of Sochi in the hope of securing the delivery of powerful missiles whose shipment has been stalled in the face of Western opposition.

IS emerged in Syria's war in spring 2013. Raqqa is the only provincial capital to fall from government control since the outbreak of the 2011 revolt and IS has since turned it into its bastion.

Most of the city's civil society activists, as well as rebel fighters who expelled Assad's troops, have either been killed, kidnapped or forced to flee for other parts of Syria or neighbouring Turkey by the militant group.

     There are now 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria and 3.2 million others have fled the country

For many months, Assad's regime only rarely targeted Raqqa city, apparently reserving most of its firepower for areas under rebel control.

But late this summer, the government intensified its airstrikes against IS positions in northern and eastern Syria.

Civilians in the crossfire

On 6 September, 53 people were killed in air raids on Raqqa, among them at least 31 civilians, according to the Observatory.

The US-led military coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria has also targeted the group in Raqqa.

Activists say Raqqa's residents fear the government's strikes far more than those of the coalition because most of the casualties from the regime's attacks have been civilians.

There are now 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria and 3.2 million others have fled the country, mostly to bordering nations.

Some 12.2 million Syrians are in need of aid, up from 10.8 in July, according to UN agencies.

The UN Security Council will move to allow cross-border deliveries of relief supplies to Syria for another year, the president of the council said.

The Council agreed in July to allow truckloads of much-needed aid to cross into rebel-held Syrian territory without the consent of the Damascus regime.

A brutal system

Strategically located on the River Euphrates near the border with Turkey, Raqqa had a pre-war population of about 220,000 - but it is now home to 300,000-350,000 people, including many displaced by the conflict, according to the Observatory.

Since the Islamic State group first started moving into the city, they have been gradually imposing a brutal yet highly organised system with all the trappings of a state, experts say.

Elsewhere in Syria, IS members stoned two men to death in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Tuesday after claiming they were gay, the Observatory said.

And in the central province of Homs the group beheaded a member of the minority Ismaili community, accusing him of "apostasy", said the monitoring group.