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'Staggering' civilian deaths in Raqqa

16 June 2017

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, in a bid to retake it from the militant forces.

The mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are spearheading the assault on the Isis-held city, which is being aerially bombarded by a coalition of states led by the US.

"The ground campaign has largely amounted to the us just chasing the (Islamic State) cell around the battlefield", said Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria expert with the Institute for the Study of War.

Separately, Human Rights Watch expressed concern in a statement about the use of incendiary white phosphorous weapons by the us -led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, saying it endangered civilians when used in populated areas.White phosphorus is not banned as a chemical weapon and can legally be used on battlefields to make smoke screens, generate illumination, mark targets or burn bunkers and buildings.

Its use in civilian areas is banned under worldwide law but the United States military says it has only used the chemical in a lawful way "that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures".

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Heavy battles continued inside the districts of al-Bareed and Hiteen in northwestern Raqqa city, the journalist said, in addition to clashes south of the Division 17 base.

The UN's World Food Programme said on Wednesday it had delivered one month's supply of food for 80,000 people in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hasakeh provinces in north and northeast Syria. The recapture of Raqqa would be a significant step in the drive to eliminate the IS's hold on Syrian territory, and in the wider battle between President Bashar al-Assad's government, backed by Russian Federation and Iran, and rebel forces supported by the U.S. and Arab regional powers to decide the future of Syria.

US defense officials said the weapon fired by the drone did not detonate and no one was hurt.

The United Nations said US -led coalition airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants in the city of Raqqa are resulting in a "staggering loss of life".

Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the USA -led coalition, denied that troops had set up a new base. It also would provide USA -backed forces with an important bargaining chip to use in the event of a final peace settlement for Syria. The pro-government forces brought in additional equipment and called in airstrikes to repel the assault, and the us was informed of those developments through the so-called "deconfliction line" it has set up with Russian military officials. Prior to January, Russia had consistently been responsible for more civilian deaths than the coalition.

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United States forces have taken other steps to stop ISIS drone operations, destroying buildings that are believed to house drone production facilities.

Up to 200,000 people are thought to remain in Raqqa city, while more than 150,000 have been displaced by the battles.

Two of the strikes killed Islamic State leaders planning attacks in the West, according to the US, including a militant involved with a youth program called "Cubs of the Caliphate", a high-priority training program sanctioned by IS' leadership.

Activists said that 4,000 fighters of the tribesmen are fighting with the SDF against IS.

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'Staggering' civilian deaths in Raqqa